Review: Infamous Stringdusters celebrate great songs, again

Tahoe Onstage

The Infamous Stringdusters picked up the Hangtown Music Festival in 2016.
Tahoe Onstage photo by Larry Sabo

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.

Infamous StringdustersHere, 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.

-Tom Clarke

  • The Infamous Stringdusters
    “Undercover Vol. 2
    Label: Lumenhouse
    Release: Oct. 27, 2017
    Nearby performance: WinterWonderGrass, Squaw Valley, April 6-8

    Infamous Stringdusters 2018 tour

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 20 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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