Album review: Billy Strings honors past, steps toward future

Tahoe Onstage

Billy Strings’ second studio album, “Home,” was released on Sept. 27, on Rounder Records.
Photo by Emily Butler

Strings theory: Given the multitude of artists using bluegrass as a catalyst for great explorations, Billy Strings may be the one to pull it all into the world’s mainstream like shimmering, multi-hued gravity.

Strings’ second studio album may not actually be cosmic in nature, but it sure does reverberate closely at times. The universal appeal of its songs clearly results from a natural connection of incredible musical talent, a reverence for the past in a multitude of genres, an imagination for today and a hopeful look toward tomorrow.

“Home” finds Strings right there, reflecting in his very own element with a group of supremely gifted, fellow players. Recorded in two weeks in January at Zac Brown’s Southern Ground studio in Nashville, the first of the album’s 14 songs begins on a beautifully haunting intro, reminiscent of prime Dickey Betts in The Allman Brothers Band. “Taking Water” then takes off, the title a metaphor for American hometowns going down amid chaos, as if boats torpedoed.

That the music is such a gushing melody of bluegrass, amid such sad lyrics, creates the instant attraction. Strings lives up to his surname immediately. Born William Apostol in Michigan 26 years ago, his aunt gave him the moniker when she just couldn’t believe her eyes or ears at all the instruments

“Taking Water” then takes off, the title a metaphor for American hometowns going down amid chaos, as if boats torpedoed.”

the kid had mastered by his pre-teens. Listen to him play and sing with such gleefulness within “Must Be Seven,” a tale of wayward individuals turning it all around. Guest vocalist Molly Tuttle enhances the experience in gorgeous harmony with Strings, who sings throughout the album in a warm, highly engaging tenor.

“Running” follows a path of bluegrass tradition, but on a rocky ledge, Strings’ partner Billy Failing not at all living up to his given surname on banjo. Strings tackles tough social and personal family issues with deeply absorbing words. “Away from the Mire” is one prime example. Strings’ musings move from anger to frustration so eloquently, while the music builds to an almost Yes-like, progressive rock sweep. In the title song, his lovely words paint a much simpler portrait, of cozy cabin in the woods.

Two years ago, Rolling Stone cited Billy Strings as a Top 10 country artist to watch. Since then, he’s shared the stage with everyone from Del McCoury to Widespread Panic. All that experience culminates in this very impressive album. Billy Strings will certainly be around, circling the sun.

— Tom Clarke

Related article — Billy Strings: ‘You’ve got to be a badass to play bluegrass.’

  • Billy Strings
    Label: Rounder Records
    Released: Sept. 27, 2019
  • Live
    Billy Strings plays the WinterWonderGrass festival at Squaw Valley, held March 27-29 LINK

About Tom Clarke

From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 23 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos.Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage.Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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