Billy Strings
Photo: Joshua Black / Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

What Dad Terry Barber Taught Billy Strings the Kid

Billy Strings and Terry Barber’s Me/And/Dad is for the traditionalists who love bluegrass and country in its raw form and find its plainness attractive.

Billy Strings and Terry Barber
Rounder Records
18 November 2022

In 1958, the Everly Brothers shocked the pop world by recording an album of country ballads called Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. The record featured a dozen (mostly) traditional tunes such as “Barbara Allen”, “Roving Gambler”, and “Who’s Gonna Show Your Pretty Little Feet?” This record was very different from the siblings’ previous hits like “Wake Up Little Susie” and “Bye Bye Love”. It was not a commercial success, and the brothers returned to making rock ‘n’ roll. But over time, the album became celebrated as a pioneering effort. Over the years, many musicians have cited its influence. Most prominently, in 2013, punk rocker Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day and Grammy Award-winning jazzbo Norah Jones remade the album in its entirety in tribute, which they appropriately named Foreverly.

It’s unclear if guitar virtuoso Billy Strings ever heard the Everly Brothers’ record, although one could surmise the bluegrass stylist is probably familiar with the Brothers’ music. In any case, Strings has taken the Everly’s project a step further. His latest release, Me/And/Dad. Features he and his father (Terry Barber) take on 14 country and bluegrass classics. For those unfamiliar, Stings is one of the most highly regarded guitarists in rock and country music today. He has won numerous awards, including Americana Artist of the Year in 2022. The duo also invited several noted bluegrass mavens to their sessions, including Jerry Douglas (Dobro), Ron McCoury (mandolin) and Rob McCoury (banjo), Mike Bub (bass), and Michael Cleveland (fiddle). The record was produced by Strings and Gary Paczosa and recorded at Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studio.  

Strings and Barber have been playing together since Billy was a kid. Strings said that they’ve jammed on these tunes endless tunes when he was younger. The songs include classics made known by legends such as Bill Monroe and Doc Watson, as well as old hymns and classics. This is hardcore stuff that makes the Everly’s recordings sound modern in comparison. While the Everly Brothers’ album seemed like folk music, this roots music expresses something more ancient and mythic.

Indeed, there is something quest-like about the making of the record itself. Strings learned to play guitar from Barber when he was only three years old. When times got hard, Barber had to sell his beloved Martin acoustic instrument. Flash forward more than a dozen years. Strings wanted to make an album with his father of the songs they used to play. Strings tracked down the original instrument and reunited his father with (what Strings calls) “the family jewel”. Strings plays several different Martin acoustic guitars on the record.

The two men take turns singing and playing. Strings appropriately takes the lead on some tunes, such as “Long Journey Home”, where the first-person protagonist is the character who left home for the larger world and is now coming home. Barber suitably takes the lead role of doting dad on “Wandering Boy”. Strings’ mother, Debra Barber, sings on the final track, “I Heard My Mother Weeping”.

This album is for the traditionalists, who love bluegrass and country in its raw form and find its plainness attractive. These performers are talented and get things right. They are not as concerned with showing off as much as connecting with each other and the material. These are the songs Daddy taught Billy the kid. He was/is more than a fast learner and a good son. Together they make mighty music.

RATING 7 / 10