Last year, the Infamous Stringdusters made quite a splash in their respective world of roots music after innovating their established sound by taking a backseat to the ladies. Ladies & Gentlemen saw the established bluegrass jam band offer up their vocal spots to the likes of Joan Osborne, Abigail Washburn, Sarah Jarosz and a multitude of others, gaining them respective nods from across the scene for the soulful undertones that a feminine touch had brought the band. If 2016 were a time for innovation for the group, however, 2017 is more or less a return to the traditions upon which their entire infrastructure is built. Moving forward with the five members and (mostly) the five instruments that make them, the acoustic ensemble is a return to form with their latest, Laws of Gravity.
By and large, this is not a bad thing. While you’re not going to be seeing the Stringdusters reinventing the wheel by any rate, here, what they’ve done is release yet another strong collection of songs that are simply bluegrass music to sit back and jam to. It would be a harder hit if they weren’t so good at what they do, but given that they are seasoned and respective veterans of their respective world, it comes across as nothing more or less than a treat they are still here, ten years onward, doing the same thing that made them a band of notable repute to begin with. Some piano and additional percussion are present here or there, dusted across a few tracks on the record as an evolutionary spin for the quintet, but otherwise—just as the album’s name might imply—this is business as usual for these Charlottesville boys, all as they go about following their very own laws of gravity to retain their trademark sound.
This much shows in the tangential jam sessions that the band takes on throughout the whole of their work, culminating with the blazing “Black Elk” on this record amidst the likes of classic bluegrass storytelling in songs like “Maxwell”, a tale of a man whose finances are abundant but is still left feeling alone in the world following a tumultuous childhood. Throughout, they establish themselves once more as the masterful musicians and poignant songwriters that we’ve come to know them as, weaving melancholic melodies of a world passing by on “Ol’ Building” and getting meta in their reflection on hard knocks providing ammo for solid songwriting on the aptly titled “A Hard Life Makes a Good Song”.
Going into this latest Stringdusters release, you’re going in fully aware that they’re not actually attempting to do anything new to innovate their sound. For some, this will come across as a missed opportunity following the crafty concepts of their previous release, and for others, it will come as a boon and a recognition of a return to form. Depending on where you stand with your personal taste on the band’s direction will affect how you see Laws of Gravity’s placement in the grand scope of the Stringdusters’ discography, but at the end of the day, there’s no denying that this is damn good bluegrass music produced by a damn good bluegrass band.
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