Author: Varner, Mark

Infamous Stringdusters: Silver Sky

Dear friends,

Last month Marty Varner stepped in to help with my monthly welcome column, delivering his unique perspective on the challenging new album by the Punch Brothers. Since then the young man has got his grubby mitts on the latest release from one of the other major players in the progressive bluegrass world, The Infamous Stringdusters. It seemed only appropriate to bookend his last review with a review of this new album, “Silver Sky.”

Infamous Stringdusters: Silver Sky
By Marty Varner

Another album making noise in the progressive world is the new Infamous Stringdusters album, Silver Sky, where they create each song with clever lyrics and killer hooks that anybody would be amazed to come up with. This is their 4th album after appearing as the emerging artist at Grass Valley in the mid 2000s. Over the years I have had the honor of meeting and being able to hang out with these guys on occasions, and they are some of my favorite people to discuss and play music with. Even though their mandolin player, Jesse Cobb, is absent on the CD and they lack the instrument throughout the album, it seems to not damage the sound and they have came out with another masterpiece of an album that I will listen to for a very long time.

The first track on Silver Sky is called “Don’t Mean Nothin’” and opens the CD with a great bluegrass tune sung by the unique voice of Jeremy Garret. The lick that is played often during the song has a very modal tone and sets up the lyrics perfectly. Me personally, can’t stop listening to the song and getting pumped. The fills by the guitar player, Andy Falco, make me strive to improve my own playing and have the swagger to wear a tank top on stage and still look like a genius.

The 2nd song called “Rockets” is sung by Travis Book and by the knowledge I have acquired from Facebook and Youtube, seems to be a song the band is really exited about. The clean voice of Travis along with the dobro and fiddle backup give it a more melodic and grooving feel than the first track. This song also show cases their vocal depth, which is I think makes them different than the other progressive groups like Milk Drive and the Punch Brothers.

The 3rd track, “Hitchhiker”, has the best lyrics of any song and shows off their third vocalist, Andy Hall, who is also renowned as one of the best dobro players out there. This song also has a more complex arrangement full of stops, starts and tension and release, which is important for a progressive band to execute. Three minutes into the song the last chorus ends yet the song keeps going with a Stringduster-like jam part featuring Andy Falco playing stuff I can’t comprehend nor play in my wildest dreams. After a minute of that, the dobro twins the guitar and leads it back to the chorus. When you think that the song is reaching its end they throw one more curve ball with a key change before the fiddle ends the song.

Since this is the first self produced CD they have made. They decided to go all out and this purpose can be heard in the last two tracks, “Fire” and the Police song, “Walking on the Moon.” “Fire” starts with the conversation of the group and the random notes of the banjo, (played by Chris Pandolfi), fiddle, and... HORNS! When I heard the first notes of the horn section I know I was in for something that no other progressive bluegrass band has done. After the out bursts of their instruments, the fiddle, guitar and all the other instruments join together along with a piano, to make a really jazzy yet chill groove that can get your head bopping. When Jeremy’s voice comes in you can tell this is going to be a very “sexual” song like “Get it While You Can,” which was one of my favorites off of their second album. Because of the guts it took to add the unique instruments, this is my favorite song of Silver Sky even though that doesn’t diminish any other song on the album.

What I sensed after listening through the album a couple times is a goal of merging into a more pop culture feel like Mumford and Sons and Trampled by Turtles did before them. I got a completely different feel from the Punch Brothers new album, because Thile’s goal I believe is not to become successful, (even though there is nothing wrong with that and I agree with the Stringdusters’ decision). Thile’s goal is just to make musical masterpieces and to make music that he and other musical intellectuals can enjoy. All in all, I cannot compare these 2 CDs because they are too different, but each of them is great, and I applaud the Stringdusters on a terrific album after losing Jesse who was a very important part of the group.

Posted:  4/2/2012

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