Raised in rural Muir, Billy Strings embraces tradition and features duets with his stepfather, Terry Barber, on his latest Rounder Records releases. The review at Local Spins.
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After a Grammy Award, the Americana Music Association’s “Artist of the Year” honors, sold-out shows across the globe and a series of chart-topping albums that reveled in his psychedelic, boundary-pushing bluegrass, Billy Strings has returned to his humble Ionia County origins.
“Me/And/Dad” was inspired by the traditional songs introduced to him by his stepfather, Terry Barber. Here’s the Local Spins review.
“Me / And / Dad”
What Stands Out: Billy Strings’ incredible and unprecedented climb to the pinnacle of the nation’s bluegrass mountain has leaned on two different audiences for its success: an older community of traditional bluegrass devotees that appreciates Billy’s virtuosic talent melded with his nod to seminal influences, and of course, all those younger jam-band fans mesmerized by his boundary-expanding, psychedelic, no-rules approach to the genre. While “Me / And / Dad” clearly favors — and specifically, caters to —the former, much of this trad-based collection will also snare at least a fair number of “Billy Goats” in the latter group with a mesmerizing web of stripped-down, back-porch-style jamming that continues to showcase Billy’s acoustic brilliance. Recorded as “a proper album” with his principal mentor and stepfather Terry Barber, the album see-saws between Billy and Terry’s lead vocals while meandering through standards by Bill Monroe, Doc Watson and others, enhanced by such stellar players as fiddler Michael Cleveland, banjoist Rob McCoury, bassist Mike Bub and mandolinist Rob McCoury – not to mention Jerry Douglas and Jason Carter.
Digging Deeper: The unassailable highlights on “Me / And / Dad” come just past the midway point on this Rounder Records release, with the harmony-laden “John Deere Tractor” (which The Judds turned into a hit back in 1991) and the instrumental fire of “Frosty Morn.” But there’s also the charm of hearing new takes on timeless gems with lines like, “Lost all my money but a two-dollar bill, I’m on my long journey home.” Some might even argue that Terry’s scratchy vocals – as well as Billy’s mom, Debra, who closes out the album with “I Heard My Mother Weeping” – only add to the raw authenticity and hominess of this compilation that embraces Billy’s roots growing up Ionia County and the generation-spanning tradition of bluegrass. That includes amiable studio banter at the end of one track where the players joke, “The last note was the best part.” Of course, most listeners would strongly disagree.
Perfect For: Those family reunions over the holidays, to help inspire post-dinner jamming.
Listen: “John Deere Tractor”
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