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The Infamous Stringdusters

Undercover EP – 2015 (Lumenhouse)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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CDs by The Infamous Stringdusters

Known for their live shows, The Infamous Stringdusters constantly search to capture the delirium of their stage fusillades on record releases. The Stringdusters' challenge flows, in part, from their conscious choice to stream virtually every live show for free (via Mixlr ) and to generously post, for little or no cost, high quality digital files of the shows. So, Stringdusters record releases can feel overly-curated, as compared to the rock-'em-sock-'em live shows. The band released "We'll Do It Live" in late 2011; it featured live tracks from a run in the Northeast in early 2011. Yet, due to the departure of their mandolin player, Jesse Cobb, "Live" was already a look back when it was released.

"Undercover" represents a successful attempt to strike a happy medium. The tracks are all covers of other artists' tunes and are recorded with a grittiness which echoes their live shows. Part of the shared excitement of a live Stringdusters concert is that the songs and arrangements differ show to show. Each night the band will once or twice throw some high heat with someone else's tune done in their signature style. The "Undercover" EP builds on that by presenting five selections that The Infamous Stringdusters pull out of their musical trick bag from time to time to fuel their performances.

A couple of the tunes are drawn from the folk tradition - "Don't Think Twice It's All Right" and "Big River." Two others, "Fearless" and "Highwayman," are concert favorites, which sound rich and fulsome here. Andy Falco is one of the slickest guitar players around, and "Fearless" proves it. Jeremy Garrett's fiddle is at the heart of "Highwayman," which also shows off Chris Pandolfi's unique banjo voicings.

The fifth selection, Tom Petty's "American Girl" sounds like it was written for Andy Hall and his Dobro. On record, here, and in concert, it never disappoints. Shaken and stirred through the Stringdusters' cycle, any song sounds fresh. "Undercover" shows this to be true.