Monday, October 7, 2019

Album Review | Billy Strings Home


Words by Kevin Hahn (Split Open & Shoot Photography)

Has there ever been an artist with more hype and excitement surrounding them in our bluegrass/jam band scene than Billy Strings? I mean, where did this guy fucking come from? From a small town bluegrass and rock-n-roll upbringing, to a plethora of “Rising Star” awards from various outlets, followed by a very well received sit-in with Greensky Bluegrass at “Camp Greensky” back in June, to headlining 3 nights at Denver's Ogden Theatre coming up in December, Billy Strings is without a doubt the hottest name in bluegrass today. I’ll even go further and say he is the hottest name in the entire “Jam” scene right now. The guy is sitting in with the biggest names in the business, and more than holding his own. From Greensky to String Cheese to Widespread Panic, and in my opinion the holy grail of music when Billy was invited to join Bela Fleck and the Flecktones this summer in Utah for a one-off show, there is no one this kid can’t play with. And ultimately, he is out-playing, out-performing, and in some cases just blowing these bands right off the stage.

The way Strings can control the tempo and direction of a song with his unrelenting acoustic guitar shredding is something I have personally never seen before. He steals the spotlight on any stage he steps onto, even without trying to do anything out of the ordinary. Billy takes songs that are already amazing and elevates them to a ridiculous level of incredible musicianship and downright bluegrass joy. (“Black Clouds”, “Gotta Jibboo”, “Running on Empty” to name a few) But what sets Strings apart from his up and coming bluegrass counterparts is his natural song writing ability, and old-school Del McCoury-ish sounding voice. The boy has a voice of a bluegrass angel from above, and that’s why I truly believe (along with almost everyone else) that Billy Strings is the present and future of the bluegrass genre.

Lucky for us fans, Billy’s latest release Home is just another notch in his ever-growing musical tool belt. The album shows off all of his best abilities: songwriting, traditional bluegrass picking, and then just some ferocious acoustic shredding. “Away from the Mire” takes listeners through all three aspects smoothly moving from melodic picking, to beautiful vocals, and then through a small jammed out section. “Watch it Fall” sounds like it could be an older Yonder Mountain String Band tune, with some beautiful banjo and mandolin playing coming in at the forefront. “Highway Hypnosis” takes us on a wild ride filled with a great fiddle addition, and then the old-school voice of Strings bringing us along throughout the tune. “Guitar Peace” will appease the instrumental fans, as Billy’s main musical attribute takes a solo run which is rarely found on albums these days. “Hollow Heart” could be right off a Travelin’ McCoury album with its banjo intro, coordinated vocal melodies, and short but sweet solo turns.

Home is a definitive look into what makes up the musical mind of Billy Strings. Even the tempo and song placement within the album is well thought out, as there really is no “down period” within it. From faster tunes such as “Everything’s the Same” to slowed down relationship focused ballads such as “Love Like me”, this album brings a smile to my face with each toss and turn. String’s backing band is also outstanding which is not surprising now as Billy recently relocated to Nashville to take advantage of the musical depth that is flowing there. His touring band consists of Billy Failing {Banjo}, Royal Masat {Bass}, and Jarrod Walker {Mandolin}. This quartet crushes everywhere they play, and now with a new album to tour behind I am sure their 2020 schedule will be nothing but action-packed.

What is next for the future star of our beloved bluegrass genre? I believe we will be seeing Billy graduate to headlining the likes of Red Rocks, Lock’n Festival and the Capital Theater extremely soon. If not this upcoming year to be quite honest with you. The hype is real. The kid can absolutely back up the awards and press that comes with him. And the list of people who he continues to impress is growing astronomically and extremely quickly. I can’t think of one thing Strings is not capable of accomplishing musically. And to think he has only been on the “scene” for 4 years or so. Take my advice and listen to all things to do with his bluegrass phenom. Go see him live whenever you have the chance! Buy his new album to ensure he continues to make them! No one knows how big Billy will get, but if he continues on the path he is on now truly the sky is the limit.

www.billystrings.com

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