Record Of The Week # 138

Billy Strings – Me/And/Dad

Terry Barber, Strings’ stepfather, fulfilled everything a biological father could when he entered young Strings’ life; not least, got him interested in bluegrass music. Ever grateful, Strings has now ‘ticked off’ his bucket list making an album with him. With a stellar back up band they’ve recorded a selection of traditional and cover songs. Strings’ nimble fingers continue to make magic on his acoustic guitar and it’s a sound that fans will recognise and like.  This follows just over a year from Renewal, an album that cemented Strings reputation as one of the most interesting americana acts around. His emergence and promotion has helped bring bluegrass, as a genre, to a new audience.

His recent albums, whilst bluegrass, do dabble with other roots sounds and he’s not averse to a little folk or other worldly sounds. This variation with its unexpected twists, for me, is the hook with Strings. Me/And/Dad is a very traditional sound. Vocal duties can be shared and Barber’s rendition of Life To Go, originally by George Jones as straight country with pedal steel and a honky tonk piano, is a triumph as his care worn, strained vocals deliver the misery of an inmate reflecting on the wasted life and the fact that he’s not coming out ever again. However, family devotion can go a little too far; his mother Debra joins the duo on Heard My Mother Weeping and her vocal is badly out of tune.

All the tracks are hand picked and have been road tested over decades; it stood to reason the selection would delight. However, the album is truly elevated by the playing of Rob McCoury (banjo), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin) and Grammy winner Michael Cleveland on fiddle. Throughout they all have their own space to solo but come together eventually to fit together like a glove. Your mind will wander to the young Strings sitting at Barber’s knee with a large acoustic guitar under his arm learning this catalogue of bluegrass. It was an important education and aside from the show of gratitude and affection it’s somehow appropriate that Terry now gets a short time in the spotlight.

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