It is no secret the state of bluegrass has long been in flux – much to the chagrin of some diehard traditional bluegrass fans. Long gone are the days when the musical traditions of the Appalachians were passed down solely during front porch pickin’ parties in Kentucky, Virginia, or Tennessee. Instead, bluegrass pickers now come from hither and yon and the music’s offshoots and variations are popping up everywhere.
Consider, if you will, The Infamous Stringdusters, a sextet of the hottest acoustic musicians in the land, whose "Southern" member – latitudinally speaking, at least – was born and raised in Colorado. The other five members of the band hail from northern climes and such bluegrass hotbeds (tongue squarely in cheek) as Wisconsin, upstate New York, Idaho, Long Island, and the outskirts of New York City. By not being raised in Dixie, each member of the band brings a decidedly non-bluegrass influence to the band; indeed, individual ‘Dusters have attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, toured with country acts like Charlie Daniels, Lee Ann Womack, and Dolly Parton, cut gospel, blues, and progressive acoustic records, and even slung grilled cheese sandwiches on Phish lot.
Things That Fly, the band’s latest release, is testament to the idea that this group of pickers is more than just a bluegrass band or – and this might be considered heresy among the IBMA faithful – that they aren’t a bluegrass band at all. Recorded at Haunted Hollow Studios – home base for rock music juggernaut Dave Matthews Band – outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, and crafted under the well-practiced ear of sound engineer/producer extraordinaire Gary Paczosa, this record most aptly displays where the ‘Dusters are headed, and it’s a distinctly non-bluegrass direction.
Sure, there are bluegrassy licks a’plenty on Things That Fly, but this is hardly a strictly bluegrass record. Take a listen to the band’s cover of U2’s "In God’s Country," the hayseed ramblings of "17 Cents," recorded with country star Dierks Bentley, or Andy Falco’s ethereal organ in "All the Same." Bluegrass tunes these are not. And the ‘Dusters want you to know they are just fine with that. For many bands, these songs and a record like Things That Fly would be considered a risky departure. For The Infamous Stringdusters, it’s just another step in the natural evolution towards what they truly are – an acoustic band that rocks.
And to those many bluegrass fans who clamor, "That ain’t bluegrass!!" when they hear the ‘Dusters play, my advice is this – instead of arguing about what it is and what it ain’t, just shut up and listen.
Things That Fly is out now on Sugar Hill Records.