While today’s populist precepts may account for modern bluegrass music’s progressive leanings, pushing those parameters and getting any guarantee that it would be embraced didn’t happen overnight. It took imagination and inspiration to transform what was many consider, and wish to maintain as a vintage sound, into music that could garner popular appeal, and, in turn, bring bluegrass to an even wider level of recognition.
That said, one can credit The Infamous Stringdusters for leading the way forward and setting a standard for any number of outfits that followed in their wake. Together now for 16 years, they continue to pursue those populist precepts, exercising their ability to bend the bluegrass boundaries as they take their music in new and unexpected directions. Spontaneity and improvisation bring them to higher plateaus, allowing them to prove their proficiency while also exploring new possibilities.
The band — which currently consists of Andy Hall on reso-guitar, guitarist Andy Falco, Chris Pandolfi on banjo, bassist Travis Book, and fiddler Jeremy Garrett — has remained nearly constant for a decade and a half. Consequently, Toward the Fray would seem to find them staying stay true to their original MO, although at its essence, it simply reaffirms the rugged, resilient sound that’s been their calling card since the very beginning. Hard Line gets the album off to a rousing start, while Down From the Mountain underscores their affection for lofty elevations, new peaks and heights. So too, When I Ride Again (Tragic 2) and Til I’m Satisfied underscore their resilience and resolve.
Their instrumental prowess continues to take center stage, as evidenced by the instrumental interplay conveyed in Revolution, another upbeat entry that finds them demonstrating their shared skills and adroit execution.
Still being a band that’s well versed in the art of altering tone and texture whenever needed, many of the songs lean towards more tender trappings — I’m Not Alone, Means to an End, and the title track in particular.
In essence, that’s key to the Stringdusters’ success — the ability to meld their ample abilities with melodies that ring and resonate with energy, enthusiasm, and sheer exuberance. Toward the Fray brings them firmly within the realms of that particular destination.