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Billy Strings

Turmoil & Tinfoil – 2017 (Apostol)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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CDs by Billy Strings

Billy Strings. It takes a lot of nerve to adopt such a nom de plume (in this case nom de guerre might be more appropriate) in the bluegrass world, but Billy Strings is up to the challenge, and more. Strings (real name William Apostol) grew up in Michigan, surrounded by musicians. A fourth-generation picker, he lives up to his name. Preternaturally talented, Strings embraces bluegrass instrumentation, but brings a powerful energy to his music. He's one of those musicians who packs a fuse and volatile sonic substance with his performance kit; sooner or later, the fuse ignites and bluegrass combusts into a fearsome, driving sound.

Some artists have difficulty transmuting their energy to the recorded medium. Not so Strings. From the opening sequence of "On The Line" ("you can't stop us..."), "Turmoil and Tinfoil" presents a hard-driving, breakneck pace of life and carrying on. It's great fun.

Strings can play the guitar, really well, and really fast. His vocals are in the lower tenor range, but are strong, assured and delivered with purpose. He relocated to Nashville in 2016, but before going on the road to support this album, he was a notorious jam-joiner with whatever band happened to be in the same place as him. He's confident, for good reason. From all evidence, he's not met a riff that was his match.

Strings' father, Terry Barber, collaborates on "These Memories of You," the penultimate cut. Uber-guitarist Bryan Sutton trades licks with Strings on "Salty Sheep." Producer Glenn Brown, who has experience with Greensky Bluegrass in harnessing the whirlwind, does fine work here, and Strings' backing band is right there with him. But, "Turmoil and Tinfoil" is Billy Strings, foremost, with a mix of traditional threads and breakaway improvisation.

String's milieu is hard driving, hard living, not genteel, workingman's America. He has a bite to his lyrics. (See, for example, the album's title cut) This is not granddaddy's bluegrass music, nor even Dad's. It's beautiful, terrifying and full throttle playing.