TAS Rated 4.5/5 Music, 4/5 Sonics in the February 2020 Issue of The Absolute Sound!
Billy Strings has been hailed as the future of bluegrass, transcending tradition and genre with his high velocity, flat-picking guitar technique and intense, confessional songwriting. From the jump, Strings has infused bluegrass with his own experiences and inspirations, adopting traditional sonic and lyrical idioms to confront contemporary social truths. Songs like "Away From The Mire" and the remarkable title track are rooted in the past but as now as next week, animated by electrifying musicianship, inventive production, and Strings' irrepressible ambition. HOME marks a landmark on this constantly moving artist's ongoing creative journey, its fearless songs and freewheeling approach recasting string-based American music in his own inimitable image.
Born William Apostol, the Lansing, MI native was raised up on bluegrass guitar by his stepfather, Terry Barber, a gifted amateur picker in his own right. Dubbed Billy Strings by an aunt who presciently saw his burgeoning ability, he "got into electricity" in his teens and began fusing high-speed technique with his own equally breakneck charisma in a middle school grindcore band. "I learned to play music playing bluegrass," Strings says, "but I learned how to perform in a metal band." After making an auspicious solo debut with 2016's self-titled EP, Strings impelled bluegrass towards heretofore-uncharted new terrain on his extraordinary debut album, TURMOIL & TINFOIL. Released via Strings' own Apostol Recording Company, the markedly powerful collection rocketed Strings to the forefront of contemporary Americana, debuting at #3 on Billboard's "Top Bluegrass Albums" chart whilst earning critical applause equivalent to its popular success. Then as now, Strings and his crack band - including banjo player Billy Failing, bassist Royal Masat, and mandolin player Jarrod Walker - honed their sound by performing more than 200 gigs a year, traveling America's blue highways and byways in a black Sprinter van to bring their music to the people.
HOME was recorded in January 2019 during a rare hiatus from the road, mere days after Strings' sold-out three-night New Year's Eve run at Pontiac, MI's Flagstar Strand Theater. With TURMOIL & TINFOIL producer Glenn Brown (Greensky Bluegrass, Marcus Miller) back at the helm, Springs and Co. spent six days working at Nashville's legendary Blackbird Studios' Studio D followed by an additional week at Zac Brown's Southern Ground Nashville. Rightly hailed for their precision picking and groove-locked on-stage interplay, Strings and the band played it equally live in the studio, simply counting off and letting the songs take flight. Traditional recording techniques were eschewed for more of "a rock 'n' roll approach" utilizing an array of old compressors and vintage microphones. As ever, Strings took great pleasure in seeing just how far he can push bluegrass without abandoning its core tenets. Songs like "Running" and "Highway Hypnosis" see Strings in forward motion once again, wedding guitar, banjo, bass, and mandolin, with harmonium and eastern percussion, classical string arrangements, and a distinctive distortion Brown creates by running Strings' vocals through a 1950 Bell PA head meant for electric guitar. "The studio gives you the freedom to do whatever you want," he says. "You can add piano, or I could play a 12-string guitar, or we could all get xylophones - it's endless possibility. I like making records like that. I think about how the Beatles did it, those guys were trying everything they could think of."
HOME sees featured appearances from Strings' Nashville former housemate, TK Award-winning guitarist Molly Tuttle (lending vocals to "Must Be Seven"), fiddler John Mailander (Bruce Hornsby, Peter Rowan, Tony Trischka), Detroit-based tabla player John Churchville, and 14x GRAMMY® Award-winning dobro master Jerry Douglas. Billy Strings made his Grand Ole Opry debut in March 2019, performing two original songs on the legendary broadcast, and is unabashedly exultant at his current place at the bluegrass table, evidenced by an ever-growing list of collaborations with some of the music's greatest heroes.
With its sonic flair, dazzling technique and forward-thinking enthusiasm, HOME is a strikingly assured manifestation of an increasingly matchless musical vision. Billy Strings is utterly unto himself, a once-in-a-lifetime guitarist, singer, and songwriter whose ingenuity, versatility, and sheer sense of commitment affirm his spot as one of the most visionary and idiosyncratic artists in all of contemporary American music.
"Yes, Billy Strings is a real person's name, and a more apt moniker would be difficult to find. This is Mr. Strings' first album and he's a young guy, but he's already a seasoned pro whose scintillating performances at festivals and clubs have created quite a buzz in the bluegrass/acoustic music world... All the members of the Billy Strings band are superlative pickers who can turn any tune into a long jam if the spirit moves them in that direction... while there's a strong bluegrass element in their instrumental rigor, the album includes electric instruments with an occasional psychedelic edge. The production borders on lush, with multiple layers and plenty of studio effects. While markedly different from his live arrangements, these more full-orchestrated versions indicate that Billy Strings is far more than just another fast picker with hot licks to spare." - Steven Stone, The Absolute Sound, February 2020
Billy Strings' talents are clear as Home joins Greensky Bluegrass's All For Money as the strongest releases in this genre for 2019.
Strings, a 26-year-old Michigan native, stuns on his cosmic new album, Home. The young warrior completes a challenging feat on this record as he strikes a thoughtful balance between traditional playing on short cuts and warmly weird psychedelic journeying on several other selections, most notably two seven-minute-plus recordings: 'Away From The Mire' and 'Home.' The former finds Strings and his top-tier bandmates engrossed in trippy instrumentation, like a bluegrass jam band that sounds less like Jerry Garcia and David Grisman and more like what old-time music might be like in 2045. Few in modern bluegrass are going to such deep space frontiers. Home demonstrates that Strings is primed to keep exploring the outer reaches of roots music.
- Double LP
- Gatefold jacket
- Made in USA
|Billy Strings||guitar, vocals, banjo|
|Billy Failing||banjo, vocals|
|Jarrod Walker||mandolin, vocals|
|Royal Masat||bass, vocals|
|John Mailander||violin (Side A Tracks 1, 2, 4, Side B Tracks 1-3, Side C Track 1)|
|Molly Tuttle||vocals (Side A Track 2)|
|Jerry Douglas||dobro (Side C Track 4, Side D Track 1)|
|Christian Sedelmyer||violin, viola (Side B Track 1)|
|Kaitlyn Raitz||cello (Side B Track 1)|
|John Churchville||tablas (Side B Track 1)|
|Megan Campbell||vocals (Side B Track 1)|
|Glenn Brown||shaker, finger cymbals, string arrangement, sitar (Side B Track 1), buchla CM100 (Side A Track 1, Side C Track 1, Side D Track 2), vibes (Side A Track 4), harmonium (Side D Track 2)|
- Taking Water
- Must Be Seven
- Away From The Mire
- Watch It Fall
- Long Forgotten Dream
- Highway Hypnosis
- Enough To Leave
- Hollow Heart
- Love Like Me
- Everything's The Same
- Guitar Peace