Based on the album art for the latest album from Bluedust, Travelin’, the casual viewer would easily assume the band is an up-and-coming group in the modern traditional vein, hailing from North Carolina or Virginia. Five men holding instruments, gathered around a lonesome railroad track – I knew exactly what I was getting just from looking at the cover. Well, maybe not.
To my surprise upon opening up the liner notes and doing a little research, the members of Bluedust hail from in and around Milan, Italy, and are steeped in straight-ahead traditional bluegrass of the Flatt and Scruggs variety. On Travelin’, they offer versions of a number of jam standards, as well as a few cuts drawn from other genres, all performed with skilled instrumentation and an obvious knowledge of the foundations of traditional bluegrass.
The album opens with an enjoyable version of Fox on the Run, guided by strong banjo from Dino Barbe. The band shows off tight harmonies and an enthusiastic approach to their music. Barbe does a fine job channeling Earl Scruggs on Down the Road, which also features solid instrumental breaks from Josh Villa (mandolin) and Tony Spezzano (lead guitar). Both this song and the group’s version of Roll on Buddy are likely crowd-pleasers during live performances – you can hear their passion for the music in their playing.
Other traditional songs that Bluedust tackle handily include a cut of John Henry reminiscent of the speedy Johnson Mountain Boys arrangement, again demonstrating fine harmonies, and an earnest, bouncy Poor Ellen Smith. Though not a standard, Kentucky Lincoln Breakdown, an original banjo tune with plenty of drive from Colton Powers, fits nicely with the group’s renditions of all of these classic numbers.
Bluedust steps outside the bluegrass world for several tracks, with one of the highlights being a rocking Johnny B. Goode. There are hints of the Jim & Jesse version here, but it’s overall more driving thanks to Barbe’s banjo and strong bass and rhythm guitar. The group also does a fine job with Mama Tried, capturing the opening and the loping melody spot-on, and with Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right, which speeds up the original but still contains hints of its gentle folk sound.
Though Bluedust has toured extensively in Europe, including opening for several popular American bluegrass bands, their eventual dream is to get to tour in the United States. Based on the music on Travelin’, they’d likely find an eager audience, particularly at festivals. The album was recorded during the current pandemic, possibly preventing it from having that true live feel. However, the group is made up of strong musicians who know their way around a bluegrass song, and whose eagerness to perform is evident (in addition to Barbe, Villa, and Spezzano, the band also includes Perry Meroni on rhythm guitar and Stefano Zanrosso on bass). Hopefully, Travelin’ will help bring their music to a wider audience, especially once our bluegrass community – and our world – gets back to normal.
For more information on Bluedust or to purchase their album, visit them online.