So long to this cage I'm in
I don't belong anywhere I've been
I need a new song as I hit the road again
Into the wind
In typical fashion, the Stringdusters have surprised everyone again by releasing an album grounded in traditional bluegrass rhythms and forms.
It would be easy to write the band has went "back" to their "roots" and "traditions," but the Stringdusters, by nature, don't seem to have the ability to go backwards. While Laws of Gravity does sound more traditional than their last couple of albums, they still have their subtle and unique ways of pushing the classic bluegrass sound forward.
"This is an important record for us, coming off the Ladies and Gentlemen project," says Andy Falco. "That album exposed us to a lot of new fans and we toured so hard this year, it really feels like a great time in the history of the band. We think Laws of Gravity is a quintessential Stringdusters record, and that all facets of the group are represented on the album in a cohesive way."
Progressive bluegrass, along with its red-headed step-child "jam-grass," is stronger than ever at this moment, in large part due to the 'Dusters making a conscious effort to become leaders in the genre. Their embrace of the progressive movement resulted in a sudden maturation that placed songwriting and tight, creative vocal harmonies on the same level of importance as instrumental wizardry and free-form jamming. What started as party music in the mountains of Colorado is now featuring some of the best songwriting in all of Americana and bluegrass music. Laws of Gravity removes all doubt about this.
The album succeeds on several levels--notably production and performance--but its ability to keep the listener engaged, whether they are ardent bluegrass fans or neophytes, is what will put it at the top of many "Best of 2017" lists. Each song has such a unique identity that consuming the entire album in one sitting is as easy pushing "play" for track one. From the straight-ahead (and much appreciated) traditional bluegrass G-run/Scruggs kick-off of A Hard Life Makes A Good Song to the prophetic visions of Black Elk, inspired by the John Neihardt classic Black Elk Speaks, each song explores its own universe fully.
Bluegrass is known for instrumental ability that at times reaches cosmic levels of proficiency, yet it's still 4 or 5 voices singing in perfect harmony that brings down the house at the end of the night. We learn this lesson again as the Falco-penned This Ole Building stands out on an overall solid album. As outdoors enthusiasts, the Stringdusters are passionate about the environment in the same way they're passionate about music and arts. These passions are inextricably linked to the current state of our country, and This Ole Building serves as a warning to take care of what matters to us.
Once it's down you wish you could
Build it back, but it's gone for good
And don't look back, you won't see
The home of the brave the land of the free
I don't think it's controversial to say The Infamous Stringdusters are the most important band in today's progressive bluegrass scene. Their live shows are filling up large music halls all over the country as they bring new fans into the scene. Their albums are constantly surprising as they explore new rhythm structures--in fact, Travis Book deserves a feature article dissecting his amazingly creative approach to playing the bass--and seemingly boundless songwriting. The 'Dusters are the vanguard progressive band of our time.
For upcoming performances, visit www.thestringdusters.com.
- Brian Paul Swenk