The Infamous Stringdusters travel on to Cincy

Infamous Stringdusters’ (l-r) Travis Book, Andy Hall, Andy Falco, Chris Pandolfi, and Jeremy Garrett; photo: Scott McCormick

By Alan Sculley

Coming off of a 2016 album, Ladies & Gentlemen, that was a bit of a musical detour, The Infamous Stringdusters knew it was time to re-establish what the band is about musically.

But fiddle player Jeremy Garrett is a bit surprised by just how far back to their roots his group went on their latest studio album, Laws of Gravity.

“We wanted to make a statement with this record that’s who we are and we’re back to our Dusters’ business, I guess you could say, but with a whole lot more experience under our belts,” Garrett says. “But you know what’s exciting about this record to me in some ways, too, is it even harkens back to maybe our first record, Fork in the Road, in the sense that there’s a lot more bluegrass on there.

“It [bluegrass] has always been that foundation, and we kind of have over the years sort of expanded into more of a poppier side of things we could do,” he says. “So this is kind of that way to come full circle.”

The bluegrass emphasis on Laws of Gravity gets established with frisky opening track, “Freedom,” while other songs (“Black Elk,” “A Hard Life Makes a Good Song,” and “1901: A Canyon Odyssey”) also demonstrate the group’s command of the bluegrass form. But Laws of Gravity also has songs that expand beyond bluegrass, including the graceful title song and poppier “Soul Searching” and “Vertigo.”

In reality, Ladies & Gentlemen wasn’t a total departure from The Infamous Stringdusters’ bluegrass roots. But it was a left turn in a couple of significant ways, beginning with the fact it featured 11 female vocalists (including Joan Osborne, Joss Stone, and Sara Watkins) singing the songs.

Perhaps more than the previous five studio albums released since The Infamous Stringdusters formed in 2006, Ladies & Gentlemen also stretched the group stylistically.

The instrumentation, obviously, was still bluegrass, and several songs fit the genre. But many of the songs favored deliberate tempos and cross-pollinated bluegrass and blues, gospel, soul, and other rootsy styles.

Laws of Gravity shows that The Infamous Stringdusters were ready to reach back into bluegrass. But the group had a few other goals in mind for the new album.

One key objective was to try and capture more of the group’s live sound and vibe on a studio recording. To help achieve that goal, Billy Hume was brought in to co-produce Laws of Gravity.  Hume was no stranger to The Infamous Stringdusters, having worked on the group’s 2012 album, Silver Sky.

“You really try to make a conscious effort not to overproduce,” Garrett says. “Let the songs, if they’re simple, be simple. If they’re complicated, come up with the best arrangement to emphasize the strengths of the song rather than have a complicated part just because we want to use our brains. So that’s kind of the way we approached it. And then having Billy record it, he really is a wizard. I mean, he’s more than just an engineer. It’s incredible what he does sonically with a record. He’s able to capture those natural, edgy tones that get that more raw sound. And with less production and more of that, I think that’s really what’s captured on this record, more than ever before.”

(And if one wants to compare, the band has just released Laws of Gravity: Live, which features live versions of songs from the latest studio album at various tour stops earlier this year.)

Perhaps an even bigger goal for Laws of Gravity was something the members of The Infamous Stringdusters—Garrett, dobro player Andy Hall, bassist Travis Book, guitarist Andy Falco, and banjo player Chris Pandolfi—could only accomplish on their own—at least in Garrett’s view. They learned to trust their musical instincts more and not let commercial concerns compromise their artistic goals.

“I think in the past we’ve made sacrifices because we want to sound a little more progressive, or we want to use a producer because you think he can get us to another level, or they have a big name, or whatever,” Garrett says. “So with this, [we were] trusting ourselves and fully just getting on board in that way…This time it was more about the art and caring less about that other stuff.”

The music-first attitude carries over into The Infamous Stringdusters’ live show. The group is mixing the new songs into its shows, but continues to change up its song set from night to night. This helps keep the group inspired on tour and also ensures that fans that come to multiple shows on a tour will get a different song selection each time.

“I’ve been in situations in early career years where I had to play the same show night after night,” Garrett says. “And it’s nice when you can nail your parts and you know everything you need to do for the night. But I really, we all do in the Stringdusters, enjoy the avant-garde, the improv. That’s what our whole thing is about.”

The Infamous Stringdusters play in the Paradise on the Point festival Friday, June 30 at Sawyer Point Park, 705 E. Pete Rose Way in Cincinnati. Admission is free. Show starts at noon. For more information, please visit TheStringdusters.com and ParadiseOnThePoint.com.

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Alan Sculley
Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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