The Infamous Stringdusters - self-titled

The Infamous Stringdusters
The Infamous Stringdusters

(Sugar Hill)

First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2011, Volume 18, #7

Written by John Metzger

Wed October 19, 2011, 05:30 AM CDT


Session players and tour sidemen often are the underappreciated heroes of the music industry. Their ability to add distinctive flavors to the works of other artists while also blending seamlessly into the background has transformed countless performers into superstars. Rarely, though, do these skilled hired hands ever get their proper due. It hasn’t helped either that when they do make an attempt to step out on their own, their recordings have a tendency to feel rather one-dimensional. It would seem as if the same characteristic that allows these talented musicians to function so well in the shadows simultaneously keeps them from flourishing once they step into the limelight.

The recent success of The Infamous Stringdusters, then, is a rare coup for those who typically provide support to other acts. Individually, the members of the sextet were fast becoming known for their session work in Nashville, and after bumping into one another around town, the ensemble got together to perform a few dates and record its debut. Issued in 2007, Fork in the Road immediately earned a heap of praise, and it later was recognized by the International Bluegrass Music Association as its Album of the Year.

Considering how much attention the outfit already has received, it would only be natural to wonder whether or not The Infamous Stringdusters could possibly generate the same level of excitement around its sophomore set. Surely, the effort would be highly anticipated, at least within certain bluegrass circles. Would, however, the mounting hype that has, at times, surrounded the outfit raise expectations for the collection to such an astronomically unattainable level that the initial impressions of the set ultimately would be diminished? Although the self-titled affair still leaves the group with plenty of room for growth, the answer is, nevertheless, a resounding "no." The Infamous Stringdusters is as intriguing as ever.

Where Fork in the Road was meant to serve primarily as its introduction to the world, The Infamous Stringdusters’ eponymous endeavor is designed specifically to showcase the ensemble’s stylistic range, its technical proficiency, and its maturity. Sometimes, the sextet sounds as if George Strait had swiped Union Station away from Alison Krauss while she was touring with Robert Plant (Bound for Tennessee). At other moments, its material easily could be mistaken for something by the Del McCoury Band (You Can’t Handle the Truth). There also are hints of the Grateful Dead’s heady improvisational sojourns lurking inside songs such as Lovin’ You and Well, Well.

For certain, The Infamous Stringdusters’ sophomore outing achieves all of the goals that the band had outlined for itself. Nevertheless, one still wishes that producer Tim O’Brien had kept a tighter reign on the group and had given it a little more focus. Featuring five songwriters — three of whom also are lead vocalists — The Infamous Stringdusters hasn’t quite figured out how to fuse everything together to form an album that is as cohesive as its individual tracks. Consequently, as the effort progresses, the edge that initially allows the outfit to rise above its peers begins to dissipate, which inevitably brings the collective from its lofty perch back down to Earth.

At the same time, though, the self-titled affair indisputably makes the case that The Infamous Stringdusters has the potential to be the next truly great bluegrass band. Throughout the set, the group comes very close to breaking through to the next plane of its development, and undeniably, there are moments when it seems as if the ensemble already is there. Its playing is sharp, and the chemistry among its members clearly is in full bloom. The Infamous Stringdusters not only has the potential to one day bring bluegrass, roots-music, and jam-band fans together, but it also is likely to sweep them off their feet. Although its sophomore set frequently is a thrilling ride, all indications are that The Infamous Stringdusters’ future outings will be even better. starstarstar


Of Further Interest...

Del McCoury Band / Preservation Hall Jazz Band - American Legacies

Nashville Bluegrass Band - Twenty Year Blues

Old & in the Gray - Old & in the Gray / self-titled


The Infamous Stringdusters is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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