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The Infamous Stringdusters - Fork in the Road

Fork in the Road

The Infamous Stringdusters

Sugar Hill SUG-CD-4021

Sugar Hill Records
P.O.B. 55300
Durham. NC 27717-5300

Available from the Sugar Hill Records web site.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker
(progdawg@hotmail.com)

For a debut release, this is polished slicker 'n a preacher during the high holy tent revival days, blazing with chops and entirely dusted in prairie winds and scorching merciless suns. The six gents bluegrassing their considerable hearts out here are perhaps first best shown in the CD's several instrumentals, cuts like Jesse Cobb's 40 West, tearing the frets off the neck and laying 'em back down again, plunging through the back roads and wheatfields. Ripe with fingerplucked delicacy and speed, you can't help but feel like indulging in a lil' fancy shitkickin' yer damn self and it takes a few minutes before realizing the entire sound emanates from strings, with not a drum in sight nor keyboards. Thus, even the jams erupting all over the place in the vocal tracks are knuckle-knottin' frenzies from Andy Hall (dobro), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle), Jesse Cobb (mandolin), Chris Eldridge (guitar), Chris Pandolfi (banjo) and either Travis Book and Alan Bartram on bass (split duties).

It's important that each member be deemed an equal, as the virtuosity throughout the release is spellbinding, as honed as a Flatt & Scruggs ensemble, mature far beyond the guys' young years, true and oft blue as a Kentucky moon. When Tragic Life follows 40 West and Garrett commences singing a tale of passion and murder, the images flow freely, humming with the twang of a Saturday night poker game down at the tavern, Hall, Book, and Eldridge crooning in behind. Poor Boy's Delight is a Loggins & Messina-ish love song taking the flavor of the mid-west a good deal further than Kenny and Jim ever did. Eldridge's harp-like guitar flows sweetly here, wistfully, smooth as honey from a spilled jug, every inch as evocative as the furious picking evidenced elsewhere, the sign of a cat who knows his style and his axe inside and out.

Too much of modern country, bluegrass, and even folk suffer when crossmatched with rock and roll but these guys, like The Elders in another style, know how to leaven the mixture to perfection, using it lightly as a seasoning to savor, not a gravy to drown in. The vigor and integrity of the repertoire propels the listener backwards into pioneer and Wild West days while pulling him forward to a place bluegrass most definitely should be going. From the very first track, Andy Hall's dobro is wielded more in a fashion Steve Howe would display yet perfectly rooted in its style. As said, every vocal cut's generous with numerous side displays of virtuosity, while the gentler passages hum with taut restraint and pensive melancholia.

Like most any musical genre, bluegrass has a number of sub-categories: Rockygrass, jamgrass, etc., and these gents have been invited to concerts and festivals for all of 'em, fitting in as though born to it, which obviously they were. Nashville was where the Infamous Stringdusters came together and a more apt locale does not exist anywhere on earth for this music. Should they not appear at the Grand Ole Opry or any of its kindred venues, and very soon, then those estimable institutions surely have sloughed the giddy-up from their gumption and wouldn't know whiskey from water. This isn't music for casual listening, it was made to wallow in, and speaks to every son of the sod and daughter of the wagontrain; to hear it is to grab the soundtrack of the old American expansion and drink deeply. 'Ere long, buzzed with the wine of the West, you remember that things weren't always a nightmare of corporations and technology…and maybe still shouldn't be.

Relax, cousin, as there's good times a-plenty, a jamdance down at the Brewster's barn tonight, and I do believe I spied Becky Lou looking your way yesterday and smiling like the cat that just got a dish of milk. Pop them fancy city-slicker boots on yer dogs and let's mosey on down thataways. It ain't like you got nuthin' better to do—in fact, it surely ain't like there is anything better to do, knowhudamean?

Track List:

  • No More to Leave You Behind (Andy Hall)
  • Fork in the Road (Jones / Pennell)
  • Starry Night (Garrett)
  • 3x5 (John Mayer)
  • 40 West (Jesse Cobb)
  • Tragic Life (Hall / Garrett)
  • Poor Boy's Delight (Benny Galloway)
  • No Resolution (Andy Hall)
  • My Destination (Andy Hall)
  • Letter from Prison (Geoff Bartley)
  • Dream You Back (Jeremy Garrett)
  • Moon Man (Chris Gandolfi)

Edited by: David N. Pyles
(dnpyles@acousticmusic.com)

Copyright 2007, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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