Editor’s note: Billy Strings, 28, won the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album. Below is a Tom Clarke’s review of the record for Tahoe Onstage.
Strings theory: Given the multitude of artists using bluegrass as a catalyst for great explorations, Billy Strings may be the one to pull it all into the world’s mainstream like shimmering, multi-hued gravity.
Strings’ second studio album may not actually be cosmic in nature, but it sure does reverberate closely at times. The universal appeal of its songs clearly results from a natural connection of incredible musical talent, a reverence for the past in a multitude of genres, an imagination for today and a hopeful look toward tomorrow.
“Home” finds Strings right there, reflecting in his very own element with a group of supremely gifted, fellow players. Recorded in two weeks in January at Zac Brown’s Southern Ground studio in Nashville, the first of the album’s 14 songs begins on a beautifully haunting intro, reminiscent of prime Dickey Betts in The Allman Brothers Band. “Taking Water” then takes off, the title a metaphor for American hometowns going down amid chaos, as if boats torpedoed.
That the music is such a gushing melody of bluegrass, amid such sad lyrics, creates the instant attraction. Strings lives up to his surname immediately. Born William Apostol in Michigan 26 years ago, his aunt gave him the moniker when she just couldn’t believe her eyes or ears at all the instruments the kid had mastered by his pre-teens. Listen to him play and sing with such gleefulness within “Must Be Seven,” a tale of wayward individuals turning it all around. Guest vocalist Molly Tuttle enhances the experience in gorgeous harmony with Strings, who sings throughout the album in a warm, highly engaging tenor.
“Running” follows a path of bluegrass tradition, but on a rocky ledge, Strings’ partner Billy Failing not at all living up to his given surname on banjo. Strings tackles tough social and personal family issues with deeply absorbing words. “Away from the Mire” is one prime example. Strings’ musings move from anger to frustration so eloquently, while the music builds to an almost Yes-like, progressive rock sweep. In the title song, his lovely words paint a much simpler portrait, of cozy cabin in the woods.
Two years ago, Rolling Stone cited Billy Strings as a Top 10 country artist to watch. Since then, he’s shared the stage with everyone from Del McCoury to Widespread Panic. All that experience culminates in this very impressive album. Billy Strings will certainly be around, circling the sun.
— Tom Clarke
- Billy Strings
Label: Rounder Records
Released: Sept. 27, 2019