One of the most prolific bands to grace the jam-grass scene over the last decade is The Infamous Stringdusters. Friday night at The Orange Peel, they’ll be releasing their newest offering, Laws of Gravity.
And what an offering it is. Featuring the tight jams and prominent harmonies that we have come to expect, they continue to push the newgrass envelope while offering perhaps their most bluesy and soulful album to date.
The album, which was recorded at Compass Records in Nashville, does an impressive of job of looking backward while still moving ahead. Perhaps the location had something to do with it – Hillbilly Central, as the studio was known for years, is where some of the greatest outlaw country music of all time was recorded back in the 1970s.
From the opening lines to the closing licks, the songs on this record fit together perfectly. According to bassist Travis Book, “We probably had about 35 songs for the record and then distilled it to the stuff that fit together well and would be fun to play.”
As with each of their previous albums, that songwriting shines through in more than just the music. The ‘Dusters have proven themselves to have meaningful, well-written lyrics and Laws of Gravity is no exception.
The album is packed with ballads and stories that would make Bob Weir proud. From the pining of the prisoner in “Freedom” to the story of “Black Elk,” to the history of the the exploration of The Gunnison, these songs put us in the shoes of others.
This focus on more Western-style lyrics, mixed in with their rock- and jam-style of music, coupled with the input and engineering of R&B producer Billy Hume, has to be considered cutting edge even by The Infamous Stringdusters’ standards.
The album, which was The ‘Dusters first shot at fully producing their own work, also offers a level of chemistry that we’ve never seen from them before. While they have been known over the years for their almost competitive jams, the solos on Laws of Gravity come across as complementary rather than competitive.
“There is much less ego coming though this album,” Book tells me, “and I think that is a result of us getting seasoned. We have been at this a long time and we have seen a lot of great pickers come and go without achieving their potential. We are all in a place where we are just so grateful to be able make music as a career. The goal is to make music that is real and present.”
The instrumental track, “Sirens,” is the most obvious example, but this shift can be heard on almost every song on the album. From the interplay of Andy Hall’s dobro and Jeremy Garrett’s fiddle on “Vertigo” to Andy Falco’s duet with Chris Pandolfi on “Maxwell,” every tune on this record simply reeks of brotherhood.
As if The Infamous Stringdusters album release show isn’t enough to make this worth every penny of the ticket price, they will be playing with the red-hot supernova that is Billy Strings.
“(Billy) is phenomenal and it is super exciting to see him get in front of people because they just flip out,” Book explains.
Strings will open and, according to Book, is almost certain to come back out and play with The ‘Dusters at some point. The flat-picking phenom has taken the bluegrass scene by storm over the past year and, if you haven’t seen him yet, it’s time.
The ‘Dusters, meanwhile, will be playing two full sets themselves. In a day in age where the opener normally gets 45 minutes and the featured band often plays only one set, it’s hard to get any more bang for your buck than that.
“We spend so much energy getting there to do the thing that we might as well do the thing for as long as we can,” Book explains to me. “Why go to all that trouble if you are only going to play for an hour and a half?”
So there you have it. If you are a bluegrass lover or simply a fan of good music it doesn’t get much better than this: one of the longest tenured bluegrass powerhouses in existence releasing a new album and playing with the brightest rising star on the scene. Odds are, this will be the standard many of us judge every show for the rest of 2017 against.
The Infamous Stringdusters play Friday, January 13 at The Orange Peel. Tickets are $17 in advance.
Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music at a plethora of clubs and bars across the southeast. He is the author and publisher of Rosman City Blues and currently resides outside of Asheville with his dog and best friend, Dr. Gonzo.