All too often, bands sound their best in the studio. They bring in super pickers to augment or replace regular band members and rely on technology and a great engineer to deliver a sound they can’t possibly replicate on the stage. The result often leaves fans wanting more at live shows.
Other times, the opposite letdown occurs. Fans hear a great band jamming out at a festival and rush to the merch table, only to be disappointed by a studio project that falls short of the intensity, emotion and immediacy of the life performance.
After listening to Let It Go, on CD or at a show, it’s unlikely anyone will have either complaint about the Infamous Stringdusters, especially those who are fans of jam bands or music that pushes the boundaries of bluegrass.
Pushing the envelope is nothing new for the ‘Dusters. They’ve been doing it regularly for years. Fans of previous efforts and the live shows – the Jamily, as the band calls them – will find plenty to like here, including the now-familiar instrumental virtuosity that cuts through from start to finish and the extensive breaks that lend a distinctive 1970s-era country rock vibe to the songs. (I still think they owe a lot to Firefall, with the flute replaced by scorching fiddle and banjo work. I first made this point about the Stringdusters’ 2012 CD, Silver Sky, and I find the comparison even stronger now. I mean that in the best way possible.)
>And traditionalists who haven’t embraced the band’s recent efforts? Ignore this record at your own peril. It grew on me after several close listens, largely because of the strength of the songwriting. There is more introspection here than on the band’s earlier offerings, nudging the listener into his or her own reflection and reexamination. It’s a rare song that can do that, usually. Here there are a bunch.
The cream of the crop is Where the Rivers Run Cold, with lyrics by Jeremy Garrett and Jon Weisberger. Thinking about the legacy you’ll leave behind is something we all do from time to time. Here, though, the message is that the job isn’t finished as long as you’re on this side of the grass:
“If I look like I’m weary,
it’s only for now.
I’ll get my rest in the ground.
There’s a lot left to do
in the time that remains,
before my last sun comes around.”
The same sentiment is found in another terrific song, Peace of Mind, with lyrics by Andy Falco:
“If I wrote about my life,
I’d write it now and not think twice,
Leave it in an open book,
Hope someday they’ll take a look.
Let ‘em know I did my best
before they laid me down to rest.”
There’s longing for days gone by – “remember when we were young and hate was only fleeting” from Travis Book’s Summercamp, and dreams of better days ahead – “I keep reaching for that rainbow” from Andy Falco’s Rainbow. And there’s a sentiment that rings true for many of us bluegrassers who have to work outside music to pay the bills: “So you can have those old, gray city streets. I wanna loosen up my tie and breathe” (Colorado, with lyrics by Garrett and Josh Shilling).
The Stringdusters have successfully plotted their own course, beyond bluegrass but not divorced from it. They’ve demonstrated that taking a chance and chasing a dream can pay off. And, as they remind us on the title cut, another Garrett and Weisberger collaboration, if today’s dream doesn’t pan out, we’ll get another opportunity – if we’re willing to take it:
“If the path that you’ve been makin’
Ain’t the one you wanna be takin’…
Take a chance and let it go.”
This one is definitely worth taking a chance on.