The Infamous Stringdusters

The Infamous Stringdusters

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It's always great to see youngsters take up the bluegrass/acoustic cause and bring it into the future, carrying on the tradition while adding new musical elements. It was great when the Country Gentlemen did it in the 1960s, when the Seldom Scene did it in the 1970s, when the Tony Rice/David Grisman crowd did it in the 1980s, and when Nickel Creek did it in the 1990s, and it's great that the Infamous Stringdusters are doing it in the new century. In truth, despite the Stringdusters' very traditional instrumentation, their music is hardly bluegrass at all; most of the songs on their second, eponymous album are original compositions, none are traditional or classic bluegrass numbers, and many of them have little in common with bluegrass -- the chopping mandolin offbeats and occasional banjo solos are the only really old-school elements that remain. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course -- at their best, the Infamous Stringdusters are excellent songwriters and even better singers in a sort of newgrass/acoustic country vein, and their best material includes songs like the sprightly but regretful "Won't Be Coming Back," the gorgeously arranged "The Way I See You Now," and the very fine instrumental "Golden Ticket." However, at their worst they have a tendency to let their virtuosity overcome their musical judgment. "When Silence Is the Only Sound," in particular, is so full of fancy chords that its melody ends up meandering aimlessly and never taking any kind of definite shape. However, most of this album treads very deftly on the fine line separating forward-thinking modernism and the old-school verities, and the singing is always first-rate. Recommended.

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