Tradition and innovation provide the interlocking roots of bluegrass and its descendents, a lively dance of elements skipping comfortably from ancient jigs to radio ditties to spacious experimentation. THE INFAMOUS STRINGDUSTERS joyously embody and carry forward the spirit of Bill Monroe, John Hartford, Earl Scruggs, David Bromberg and other originators in their skilled embrace of this music’s twin gravitational pulls, moving dexterously between homespun legacy and creative expansion, a band firmly grounded in what has come before as they grow strong into tomorrow.
“What we do is a hybrid of the improvisational and bluegrass worlds. We take a lot of pride in that. While our music is our own concept, hopefully it does justice to the amazing components of the bluegrass world,” says Stringdusters Chris Pandolfi. “We love to present what we do but we always call on the bluegrass world of chops, technique, and traditions.”
GRAMMY-nominated The Infamous Stringdusters – Andy Hall (Dobro), Andy Falco (guitar), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle), Travis Book (double bass), and Pandolfi (banjo) – are as comfortable at a dirt road pickin’ session as they are on an amphitheatre stage, a collection of talents that can whisper and roar as the circumstance demands, responding in real time to their surroundings, working the angles as they ply their craft and raise their sinewy voices with limber grace.
Equal parts old school cats and modern operators, the Stringdusters’ latest album, Ladies & Gentlemen (arriving February 5th on Compass Records) spotlights the band’s gift for incorporating guests into their world by rolling out the red carpet for an eclectic array of female singers lending their pipes to a dozen original Stringdusters compositions.
Highlighting the group’s instrumental and compositional prowess, the new set opens up fresh spaces including the drum-boosted contemporary country bounce of “Listen” with airwave vet Joan Osborne, the classic Dolly Parton feel “See How Far You’ve Come” with Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek, Watkins Family Hour), the slow jam slink of “Have A Little Faith” with nu-soul belter Joss Stone, the contemporary folk breeze of “I Believe” with Lee Ann Womack, the rousing Americana soar of “Old Whiskey Bottle” with Celia Woodsmith, or the exhilarating style stew of “Hazosphere” with Jennifer Hartswick (Trey Anastasio Band). Elsewhere Mary Chapin Carpenter, Aofie O’Donovan (Crooked Still, Sometymes Why, The Goat Rodeo Sessions), Celia Woodsmith (Della Mae), Sarah Jarosz, Nicki Bluhm, Claire Lynch and Abigail Washburn weave their voices into one of the group’s strongest song cycles to date.
“Something unifying carries across the different tracks despite the diversity. All of the ladies really brought something special, often melodically, to each song,” says Andy Falco. “They took liberties with what we gave them, which is wonderful. They adapted the material and made it their own, so the finished track was truly a merger of the Stringdusters and each unique collaborator.”
“The lineup crosses all these interesting lines, from genres to relationships to different generations. It brings all these different things together,” says Pandolfi. “It has us playing with people that are new to us, playing with people from our scene, and playing with legends. When making a new Stringdusters album the challenge is finding the mojo – the heart of the matter – and this project has so much heart and mojo coming from all sorts of directions.”
Ladies & Gentlemen, the Stringdusters’ sixth full-length studio release, follows on the heels of Undercover, an EP of inspired cover tunes that reflect the variety of interests and influences in the Stringdusters, tapping the catalogs of Pink Floyd, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and The Highwaymen. It’s another sign of the band’s desire to stretch and innovate even as they fully understand and honor the legacies they engage.
“It’s a challenge we’ve embraced over the years. We’re a band that’s all about original music AND our own approach to old songs,” says Pandolfi. “It’s always been our thing to find a new way to do this.”
A resounding feeling of rock-ribbed authenticity and charming sincerity infuses every aspect of what the Stringdusters do.
“You can’t fool an audience,” says Falco. “There’s a yearning for real stuff in our time right now. Pop music is so perfect today but it’s sterile and the feeling inside it is being lost. When I listen to The Band, the background vocals aren’t perfectly lined up but it’s perfect in its imperfections. That’s what you want to hear. That’s where something grand unfolds. That’s grandma’s spaghetti and meatballs. When you’re younger you think you want the Spaghetti-Os but really you want what grandma is cooking up. As we grow as a band, we reach for more of those home cooked moments in the studio, in concert, in everything we do.”