Like many modern bluegrass bands, the Infamous Stringdusters tend to tap tradition, but only as far as it helps navigate their way towards the mainstream. Granted, the basic accoutrements are there - as evidenced in the confluence of fiddles, banjos, resonator guitar, mandolin and high harmonies - but this band, like such storied contemporaries as the Steep Canyon Rangers, Town Mountain, Punch Brothers, the Sam Bush Band and the like, place more of an emphasis on melody than simply on their plucking and picking.
Where some of the band's more recent albums seemed to find them leaning slightly more clearly towards a more mass appeal approach, "Rise Sun" finds a decided mix in sound and style. The robust revelry and one-two punch of opening tracks "Rise Sun" and "Another Night" share the exuberance one might expect to find emanating from any outfit that bases its sound on populist precepts, even as "Long Time Going" echoes a more traditional template. However both elements make for a compatible combination on songs such as "Thunder," "Carry Me Away" and "Comin' Again," where the resounding ring of their essential instrumentation finds a credible and compatible fusion of sound and sensibility. The uptick in energy never falters - the heartfelt ballads "Somewhere In Between" and "Last of the Lucky Ones" prove a notable but welcome respite - and the results are manifest in a sound that's propelled by both dexterity and determination.
Ultimately, "Rise Sun" is the kind of album that ought to find favor with festival aficionados for whom any combination of integrity and enthusiasm is a natural draw. Happily though, the Stringdusters go them one better with songs that ring and resonate well beyond those live environs. That's but one reason why "Rise Sun" finds them climbing further towards that higher plateau.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer and author based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles. His book - Americana Music - Voices, Visionaries and Pioneers of an Honest Sound is available from Texas A&M University Publishing.