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Infamous Stringdusters succeed on own terms

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., July 31, 2008

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The Infamous Stringdusters may be a band lacking a true frontman - they have three of them - but that didn't mean the bluegrass-based sextet lacked an identity or more importantly the ability to make quality music.

Taking turns on lead vocals for the Nashville-based group were fiddle player Jeremy Garrett, upright bassist Travis Book and Dobro ace Andy Hall. Garrett took most of the leads, but the others did their fair share as well, and all were up to the task. Book was a bit rough on one of his vocal turns, but certainly picked it up after that during a two-set evening that drew a packed house at the folk music institution.

The Stringdusters are touring behind their just out self-titled second disc, a strong recording. The sound is steeped in bluegrass with a bit of a country edge to it as well. There are a lot of harmonies with Garrett, Book and Hall helping out whoever handles lead vocals.

But in concert, the Stringdusters provided enough twists and turns to their music to keep it entertaining and lively throughout. Nor was this ever a rushed affair as time and again, each player took turns getting a chance to shine. The songs tended to be stretched out, reaching their logical conclusion without ever growing tired. It obviously helped that these guys are players. Jesse Cobb is extremely solid on mandolin with many many fine runs on song after song. Hall, on Dobro, may be the best player of the batch. He was quite lyrical, enabling the songs to take off. While more in the background, acoustic guitarist Andy Falco, who joined the band last September, added a good energy and solid playing as well.

There are no weaknesses whatsoever when it came to the Stringdusters musically. And they combined it all - vocally and musically - on songs like "Won't Be Coming Back," the lead-off song on the new CD.

Many bands would suffer for not having a true leader especially in this large a configuration. But mixing it up vocally and musically enabled the infamous Stringdusters to succeed on their own terms.