Dismiss labels. Forget trying to fit into a scene. Be true and play your songs.
That encompasses the prevailing spirit of Let It Go, the fifth studio album from Grammy-nominated bluegrass expansionists The Infamous Stringdusters. The new effort, released April 1 on the band's own High Country Recordings, finds the band on firm footing, at ease with an evolving sound that defies categorization. It's acoustic music, sure, but not the kind you'll hear from any other band. Roots can be traced but boundaries don't exist.
The Infamous Stringdusters have proven they can both mine the past and look forward to the unknown, and their new album is a touchstone for a group of tightly bonded musicians completely comfortable with each other and their collective identity.
Perhaps the sentiment is best summarized through five joined voices in the mountaintop gospel-hued title track: “If it’s worry you’ve been feeling over things you can’t control, it’s time to let it go.”
When The Infamous Stringdusters first emerged eight years ago, the band was immediately branded fast-picking Nashville wunderkinds, a new-generation super group built to revive the high lonesome sound. Then came immediate accolades—IBMA awards, a chart-topping self-titled album for Sugar Hill Records and a Grammy nomination for “Best Country Instrumental” (for "Magic No. 9" from the 2010 album Things That Fly). Incendiary chops, complete with undeniable instrumental virtuosity and heartfelt harmonies, immediately positioned the band to be longstanding bluegrass torchbearers.
But for the five members of The Stringdusters—Andy Hall (Dobro), Andy Falco (guitar), Chris Pandolfi (banjo), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle) and Travis Book (upright bass)—reverence for traditionalism has always been only part of the equation. The group has always remained intent on fostering something bigger, more original. It’s this desire—and the combined efforts of uniquely creative minds—that has brought the quintet to its current place as multi-dimensional string explorers, mixing tight song craft from a variety of musical styles with a flare for improvisation. Armed with an exhilarating, often-unpredictable live show, the open-minded approach has certainly resonated and allowed the band to easily fit on a diverse set of stages—from Telluride and Grey Fox to Bonnaroo and High Sierra—building crowds along the way that fill some of the country's best rock clubs.
The Lifestyle Experience
The past year was particularly transformative, as the band members realized there was no need to go through the formulaic motions in a shaky music industry. Bolstered by the support of a loyal and dedicated grassroots fan base, The Infamous Stringdusters are constantly looking for opportunities to create new experiences. Oftentimes it happens on stage, like the recent sit-ins from Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh or jazz guitar legend John Scofield. Other times it’s through accompanying adventures, like the band’s August 2013 trip on the Middle Fork of Idaho’s Salmon River.
Following the group’s 2013 summer American Rivers Tour, which doubled as an awareness campaign for water sustainability issues in partnership with prominent outdoor industry companies including Patagonia, Klean Kanteen and Osprey Packs, the band members and select fans and friends embarked on a six-day float trip through an unspoiled wilderness area. With instruments in tow, the band played music daily, standing on the banks of the river or sitting together in campsite circles. The inspiration of natural surroundings yielded fresh songs that landed on the new album. “Middlefork” is a newgrass instrumental that conveys the mood of being free in pristine open spaces. “Where The Rivers Run Cold” features a fast progression and introspective lyrics that peak with a bold chorus about enjoying the beauty that surrounds.
In The Studio
When it was time to record Let It Go, the band came together in the fall at White Star Sound, a secluded studio with rustic, close-knit accommodations and state-of-the-art equipment, located on a vast, historic farm outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. It’s a quiet place, accessed by a dirt road, where chickens wander freely and long pastoral views can be enjoyed in every direction. With no distractions, it was the perfect place to distill an overflowing well of ideas that had been filling since the band’s last release, 2012’s Silver Sky.
The result is easily the band’s most cohesive musical statement to date. It’s a record that respects the studio process. Dynamic picking is delivered with restrained grace, in service to song. There’s stylistic range within the context of a unified vision, as melodic reflective tunes wander between nuanced expansive folk (“I’ll Get Away”), anthemic country jams (“Colorado”), freewheelin’ acoustic rock (“Peace of Mind” and “Light & Love”) and dusty balladry (“Rainbows”).
The members of The Infamous Stringdusters now all reside in different locations. Hall and Pandolfi recently felt the calling of the mountains and both moved to Colorado. Guitar ace Falco returned to his roots in Long Island to be near family, while Garrett remains in Nashville, where he’s known as a prolific songwriter. Book dwells quietly in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, near the site of the band’s annual October festival The Festy Experience.
Occasional separation has proven to be a good thing. It’s important to remember these are five musicians with unique individual talents, but they all realize they have an undeniably special chemistry when they come together. That was apparent from day one. But now after years of growth—both personal and professional—the band has cast off labels and found an existence where music is about a greater connection. Through friendship, democracy, skill, passion and open minds, it’s a broader lifestyle filled with community and plenty of celebration.