Me/And/Dad (Rounder, 2022)
Billy Strings and Terry Barber
Reviewed by Donald Teplyske
Billy Strings' bluegrass has engulfed the Americana music community over the past several years. He has won a Grammy, as well as multiple International Bluegrass Music Association Awards including Entertainer of the Year twice, and an Americana Music Award as Artist of the Year. More than a flashy guitar player, Strings has bridged the traditional bluegrass community to broader audiences playing increasingly large stadium shows
But the story started in Michigan where almost 30 years ago Strings acquired his passion for music at the knee of his father, Terry Barber. Barber played classic country and bluegrass songs on his Martin guitar, and young Billy unsurprisingly gravitated to his music.
Fast forward a couple decades, and we have "Me/And/Dad," as impressive an album based within acoustic garage-picking as we will encounter. Selecting childhood songs that Strings felt were most significant and recorded over five days with four-fifths of the classic Del McCoury Band - Ron (mandolin) and Rob (banjo) McCoury, Jason Carter (fiddle), and Mike Bub (bass) - along with Michael Cleveland (fiddle) and Jerry Douglas (resonator) - this is not necessarily the album we were expecting from Billy Strings at this point in his trajectory.
But it is a most welcome continuation of his journey.
The palpable familiarity between Barber (guitar) and Strings (guitar and banjo) breathes vitality to these very familiar songs. What is plain beyond that captured on tape is the affirmative impact Barber has had on Strings, instilling a deep appreciation for these elemental, unadorned sounds.
High-energy, up-tempo songs like "Deeper in the Well" (featuring amazing fiddle touches from Cleveland,") "Way Downtown," and "Stone Walls and Steel Bars" provide balance from the maudlin songs favored by the duo. Knowing a little about their relationship, songs like "Wandering Boy," "Little Blossom" and even the instrumentals "Frosty Morn" and "Peartree" hit a little harder than they might when performed by others.
The album opens with "Long Journey Home," the first song Strings recalls learning from his father, and closes with an engaging vocal duet between Barber and Strings' mother Debra on an impactful "I Heard My Mother Weeping" with the "Little White Church," another family favorite providing additional ballast.
There may be no more universally beloved bluegrass song than "John Deere Tractor," and despite some challenging lyrics ("Remember, city women ain't the same...and the sweet country girls don't complain..." ) the song holds up over 40 years; Strings delivers his most emotionally-charged vocal on this Larry Sparks classic.
Terry Barber's voice and guitar playing is the foundation upon which Strings is building his career, and this 45-minute set is a fitting tribute to their relationship, the story of a father and son whose bonds were strengthened by shared passion for unadorned, natural-sounding music.
CDs by Billy Strings and Terry Barber
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