The Infamous Stringdusters "Laws of Gravity" Compass Records
by Donald Teplyske
Over the course of a decade and six previous albums, The Infamous Stringdusters have continually evolved their vision of acoustic string music. There is no one quite like them.
Their early albums for Sugar Hill were most identifiably bluegrass, and the group was embraced for their modern interpretation. They received three International Bluegrass Music awards for their debut recording, including Song and Album of the Year, and were nominated for Best Country Instrumental at the 2011 Grammy Awards.
Subsequently, and recording independently, the band's global vision of the music's place in the big tent of Americana was lauded by the industry. Their music remained gripping if slightly less recognizable as 'bluegrass' as elements of the jam band environ became more apparent.
Most recently, the five members of the Stringdusters received accolades for their previous Compass recording, "Ladies & Gentlemen," a well-received, wide-ranging collection on which they support vocalists, from Claire Lynch, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Joan Osborne to Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O'Donovan and Sara Watkins.
The group has long been recognized as one of the most energetic live groups, and while their approach has never been remotely traditional, they have consistently been a popular draw and have broadened the appreciation of the music into venues and festivals that one doesn't necessarily associate with 'grass.
"Laws of Gravity" is their most complete and consistent recording since 2010, an intense bluegrass flavour for those looking for the unconventional within modern acoustic sounds. It builds on the growth the group experienced through "Silver Sky" and "Let It Go," but the songs are more succinct musically, and consequently memorable. You can hear bluegrass's influence on every song, but few are going to suggest this is the music of a bluegrass band.
The disc kicks-off with the 'cold' opening of Jeremy Garrett launching into "Freedom," a rousing, spirited song floating along lively banjo notes from Chris Pandolfi.
Co-written with Jon Weisberger, "A Hard Life Makes a Good Song" speaks truth within the parameters of a fairly conventional (for the Stringdusters) bluegrass song. Garrett's fiddle is featured prominently, while guitarist Andy Falco is also provided considerable room to manoeuvre. DJs, listen up.
Falco takes the lead on "This Ol' Building," an introspective song that we should all consider before embrace the next thing to come along: intentional or not, there are political overtones to this one. The collective, gospel quality of the vocal arrangement is powerful and lasting in its impact.
With four lead vocalists, Stringduster albums always have considerable diversity within their recordings, an appealing element for those of us who feel an attraction to variety. What remains consistent and unifying is the power of their presentation, even when things threaten to spiral away as in "Gravity," a Travis Book sung number that has as much in common with The Moody Blues as it does the String Cheese Incident. Nothing wrong with some unbridled fervor.
Andy Hall does a commendable job on his lead pieces. "Black Elk" is epic, and his intense delivery, in counterpoint to Pandolfi's banjo notes and the mid-song dreamy instrumental interlude, only magnifies the impact. "Vertigo" is pointedly poetic and "Let Me Know" is similarly appealing.
Co-writing with folks both well-known and less so (Becky Buller, Sarah Sisking, Travis McKeveny, Josh Shilling, Athena Desai) The Infamous Stringdusters have solidified their place as one of the most engaging, intriguing bands making modern acoustic music that includes elements of bluegrass while reflecting shards of influence from far beyond. The group retains their identifiable sound while further redefining acoustic Americana.
This isn't my father-in-law's bluegrass. It isn't so much even my bluegrass, as I tend to be much more traditional in what I view through a bluegrass lens.
Nope, this is Infamous Stringdusters music, and they lay out newgrass with a side of jam-band like no one else. Laws are for society and science, not music. "Laws of Gravity" is a heady, enthusiastic album filled with energy and passion.