The Infamous Stringdusters – Silver Sky

Silver Sky - The Infamous StringdustersLast fall, as a keynote speaker at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass conference in Nashville, Chris Pandolfi acknowledged that the Infamous Stringdusters had no interest in attempting to reach all bluegrass fans with their music.

“We’re not trying to reposition old bluegrass fans,” he said at the time. “We’re trying to find new ones.”

The music on Silver Sky, the Dusters’ latest project, backs up Pandolfi’s remarks. It isn’t for everybody. Truth be told, bluegrass purists will find very little to like here. But fans of jam bands – and not just jam grass – will find plenty to bounce along with on this record. And if, in the process, bands like the Dusters, the Hillbenders and Leftover Salmon expose some new fans to bluegrass, that can’t be a bad thing, right?

While none of the songs come close to the bluegrass feel of Poor Boy’s Delight, a Dusters’ hit of a few years back, there are a few tunes that can squeeze into a moderately sized bluegrass tent.

My favorite, far and away, is The Hitchhiker, which the band worked up with Jon Weisberger, one of bluegrass music’s most prolific songwriters. (He has four co-writes on this project alone!) Hitchhiker is a classic song about needing to get away, as proclaimed in the chorus:

“Anywhere your restless wheels are rollin’ is better off than stayin’ here alone.”

The melody is powered by the interplay of Andy Hall’s dobro and Jeremy Garrett’s fiddle — until the song is interrupted and extended beyond five minutes with a minimalist jam that probably comes across much better live than on the CD. Still, when this song is barreling along and Garrett is singing, it’s a winner.

Night on the River should be a festival favorite, too. It’s another Weisberger co-write, but with more of a mid-1970s country rock feel. In fact, after several listens I found myself hunting down old Firefall videos and audio files on the Internet.

Sounding like someone else? There’s a lot of that here, from Supertramp on Like I Do, to Little Feat on the funky piano and horn-infused Fire. But that’s not always a bad thing, especially when you know your way around fretboards and fingerboards the way these guys do.

Like I said, this isn’t bluegrass. But it is energetic and fun, and in the right hands – and to the right ears – Silver Sky could be a gateway to Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers or the Earl Scruggs Revue. And that’s close enough that some fans might actually stumble into the bluegrass tent, like what they hear and decide to stick around.

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About the Author

David Morris

David Morris is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, songwriter and upright bass player. He has spent much of his career as a wire service political reporter, including nearly 14 years with The Associated Press and a stint as chief White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, and is now a senior editor for Kiplinger Washington Editors.

  • David Smith

    “Truth be told, bluegrass purists will find very little to like here.”

    Excuse me, but may a critique this critique. I’d like to admit prior to typing any further that I’m writing with more passion than logic. I’m just tired of the “size of the bluegrass tent” talk. Guess what? I’m a bluegrass purist and I love Silver Sky. I’ve debated in my mind and with others on whether I like Bill Monroe and Jimmy Martin, or Red Allen and Frank Wakefield singing Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake better. I’ve shed tears listening to the Stanley Brothers sing I long to See the Old Folks. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed all of the releases of today’s “progressive-jam-oriented-modern-acoustic-blah-blah-blah” bands such as Town Mountain, Chatham County Line, and the Infamous Stringdusters.

    Furthermore – writing with more passion than logic mind you – I’d say that there’s more “bluegrass” in past releases from these bands than from many of the latest releases from the darlings of the “bluegrass” industry. Would those within this supposed “bluegrass tent” dare write the following sentence in terms of Blue Highway:

    “While none of the songs come close to the bluegrass feel of Poor Boy’s Delight, a Dusters’ hit of a few years back, there are a few tunes that can squeeze into a moderately sized bluegrass tent.”

    “While none of the songs come close to the bluegrass feel of Find Me Out on a Mountain Top, a Blue Highway hit of a few years back, there are a few tunes that can squeeze into a moderately sized bluegrass tent.”

    No, they wouldn’t, because this “bluegrass tent” discussion is being made up as it goes. Get over it. There never has been a bluegrass tent – bluegrass music has always been too progressive, too revolutionary to fit into the confines of a tent.

    The future of bluegrass music will not be a new revolution. This is because bluegrass music is already a revolution. Bill Monroe teaming up with Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise and Howard Watts was more progressive than any modern-day notion of the word (I would apologize to the Infamous Stringdusters and Punch Brothers with this statement, except I would guess that they would agree). Each decade to follow would find bluegrass following in such progressive and yes, revolutionary footsteps. The only tradition that I see in traditional bluegrass music is that of progression.

    I found it absolutely awesome that within all of the tributes, all of the quotes, and all of the obituaries of both Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson two things were found: they were traditional and they were progressive. I read CNN online; a read newspaper clippings that my Mom sent me from Virginia; I read the writings of their friends and musical collaborators: they were traditional and they were progressive.

    I have many more thoughts on this matter, but I don’t want to start thinking too hard and pull logic into my ramblings. I’ll stick with passion for now and end with the following: the Infamous Stringdusters new release, Silver Sky, is bluegrass through and through and any tent trying to hold it in is destined to explode with the ease of a child’s balloon to a needle. People need to stop talking about the size of the tent and start readying the needle.

  • Milo Farineau

    Love me some old time bluegrass. Love me some Stringdusters. Imagine if all that rock and roll fans did was talk about how “that new rock song doesn’t sound like Chuck Berry at all!”? If you meant, “If you ONLY like traditional bluegrass this may not be your cup of tea” perhaps you may be correct.(And even then, it just may happen that this pushing of the envelope would make that person change their mind about only liking TRADITIONAL bluegrass)Music is evolution.

  • These guys just keep getting better and better.

    If I heard this music playing I’d have to wander into that tent regardless of its size.

    If this is the future of bluegrass rather than its history, I’d say that it is in very capable hands.