Infamous? Only in the same lighthearted sense that they’re renegades in the realm of traditional bluegrass. Stringdusters? Imagine fingers whisking across wood and steel, sparkling particles settling into exquisite order. These world-class Stringdusters have been picking and harmonizing on all manner of song gems, self-crafted and mined, since 2007.
This, their ninth batch from the studio, mirrors their “Undercover” EP from 2015 in both size and brilliance. That one found Andy Hall (dobro), Andy Falco (guitar), Chris Pandolfi (banjo), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle) and Travis Book (standup bass) redecorating the songs of Johnny Cash, Jimmy Webb, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd and Tom Petty.
Here, they begin with The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” Yes, the Cure — those MTV stars with the glaring makeup and high hair. Where their song pulses with ’80s new wave pop (and I’m kidding; I actually like it), The Stringdusters make it snap and crackle with earthy class.
“Golden” then gently unfurls, glowing more brightly perhaps than Jim James and My Morning Jacket’s original. Picture a sunny mountain top as opposed to an atmospheric cabaret setting. The Stringdusters obviously recognize that a great song is a great song, no matter the source, style or message. Artistry’s what counts. And, that the best of sweet melodies alone can convey profound thoughts — not one word necessary.
Dickey Betts’ Allman Brothers classic “Jessica” is one of those special pieces. For this band of incredible progressive ‘grassers, it’s perfect. Every note, and every lick; the banjo over guitar, the sawing fiddle in unison with a dobro; all that beauty speaks volumes about the talent on hand, and of Mr. Betts.’
Then we have Marvin Gaye’s immortal “What’s Going On,” with sweet, sizzling jams amid its soulful melody, and buttery caramel voices conveying the significance. A take on Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” closes the set with electronic dance beats made fairly soulful. Although that one is swirling up in the air, the bottom line is that soul underlines every one of these magnificent performances, and the Infamous Stringdusters in general.
- The Infamous Stringdusters
“Undercover Vol. 2
Release: Oct. 27, 2017
Nearby performance: WinterWonderGrass, Squaw Valley, April 6-8