Album Review – Billy Strings – “Me/And/Daddy”

The moment Billy Strings is enjoying right now is one that future generations will watch with envy to those who witnessed it in real time. Like country fans who grow nostalgic for the Outlaw era of the 70s with Willie and Waylon reigning over the roost, or when grunge kicked hair metal, with Billy Strings bridging the band world of jam and bluegrass, he distinguished himself as a generational talent. , and something we never thought we’d see in this world or another: a bluegrass superstar.

But with the way Billy Strings likes to push the boundaries of bluegrass when performing live – reaching into the realm of improvisation or smashing effects pedals and leaping into the world of rock – a sense of inevitability hovered. about his career, with fans anticipating the moment when Billy completely abandons his bluegrass roots for the boundless realm of a kind of genreless avant-garde experimentalism. After all, how could a genre contain such a creative force as Billy Strings?

If there was a perfect time for Billy Strings to get off the bluegrass train, it would be now. It’s at the peak of its powers and peak of commercial applicability, selling out arenas now and setting the music world on fire far beyond the humble environs of roots music. So what is he doing to codify his dominance of the live music space? He leaves and records the simplest possible album of bluegrass and country standards, and invites his father who instilled in him the love of bluegrass into the studio as a collaborator. I’m not sure this twisted old world deserves this young man.

These days, when an artist wants to make an album for themselves, it’s usually an off-brand, self-indulgent ear screw, composed almost on purpose to insult their core fan base under the misconception that it somehow codifies his artistic integrity. For Billy Strings though, his passion project is to double down on what brought him here and deliver that straightforward album of bluegrass standards that many fans have been waiting for from him for a while.

The objective of Me / And / Dad is quite simple: capturing the songs that Billy’s father, Terry Barber, taught him as a child, and that they played together for years. It’s for posterity, and a bucket list item Billy wanted to scratch before it was too late. Whether you or I liked it, whether we picked a different set of songs, or did something completely different for Billy’s latest album, it doesn’t matter. It’s one of those albums where the results mean more than the entertainment value you or I get out of it.

To make the album as authentic to bluegrass as possible, Billy continued to use his live band, even though they could have handled the task very well, and brought in a set of traditional bluegrass ringers, namely the god violin Michael Cleveland, dobro maestro Jerry Douglas. , violinist Jason Carter, mandolinist Ron McCoury, banjo player Rob McCoury (basically, the Travelin’ McCourys) and bassist Mike Bub. As you can imagine, there are no false notes on this disc.

Of course, Billy’s father, Terry, is not a spectacular singer. This is somewhat evident on the second track “Life To Go”, which is a George Jones song in the bluegrass style. However, no one will ever equal or surpass the singing of George Jones. That’s not the point. However, when Barber and Billy harmonize, a beautiful sound ensues that cannot be matched either. Bound by blood, these are the kind of harmonies you can’t perfect even with professional singers at the perfect pitch. When father and son sing “Way Downtown” and “Little White Church”, it’s absolutely divine.

One of the album’s only flaws is that the overtone vocals were omitted from their version of “Dig A Little Deeper (In The Well)”. But one of the interesting aspects of this album for country fans is that some of these songs are country songs performed in a bluegrass style. “Dig a Little Deeper” was made famous by the Oak Ridge Boys. The aforementioned “Life To Go” was a George Jones hit. “John Deere Tractor” was directed by The Judds.

And the lyrics of songs like “John Deere Tractor” and “Wandering Boy” mean a little something extra when featured on an album like this. The same goes for “I Heard My Mother Weeping” where Billy’s mother, Debra Barber, also appears. It really is a family affair. But with the playing of Billy and all the other musicians he brought together for the album, the album still remains a world-class bluegrass offering.

When inheritance is written for Billy String, Me / And / Dad won’t be counted as one of the seminal releases of Billy who rewrote the rules on bluegrass. It is, after all, an album of standards, some of which have a dozen or more renditions. But the album will nonetheless be considered one of the most important albums of Billy Strings’ career because beyond the music, it highlighted and illustrated the character and passion he brought to the preservation of bluegrass. and to family and people first, even when he was at his peak of popularity.


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Toya J. Bell