For almost a month, I’ve been listening to the new album called Home by Billy Strings and I feel the need to say thank you.
Billy Strings (vocals/guitar), Royal Masat (bass), Jarrod Walker (Mandolin), and Billy Failing (banjo), I want to thank you for the beautiful music on your new album called Home. If you’ll indulge me a bit, I would like to share what this music means to me. While I’m at it, I want to share a story of how I became your fan.
Home: The Album
The foot tapping begins after the dreamy opening to the song called “Taking Water”. Part of the beauty of bluegrass and in particular the way Billy Strings approaches the genre is the ability to make a somber topic sound uplifting. This cautionary tale is about recognizing trouble ahead and doing something about it. The spry beat from Royal’s bass embellished with the lyrical fiddle of John Mailander bring visions of a green field shimmering with life after a passing summer storm.
You know an album is going to plant its roots in you when you feel the music physically holding on to your heart. Many times while listening to Home, I could feel my heart in my mouth threatening to choke me with emotion. This is a particularly strong sensation while listening to “Away From The Mire”. The guitar echoes the earnest and heartfelt lyrics. I could swear I heard Billy’s resonate vocals quaver in the second chorus “Will you always laugh about those things.”
“Away From The Mire” like so many songs on the Home is enlivened by the magnificent playing of each member of the band. In particular, the penetrating and plaintive electric guitar solo on this song. It contrasts with the spirit of joy in the earlier solo by Jarrod on mandolin and John’s fiddle. Again, I’m struck by the emotions which pour over me as I listen to this music. All of it a result of a banjo roll, a guitar lick, or the bass tugging at my heart.
Some critics may question whether Billy Strings is actually bluegrass given he pushes the boundary of tradition. Well, fuck that. The tradition of country and bluegrass is in storytelling with humility. If you want tradition, enjoy the mountain rag in “Hollow Heart”. Or tear it up with “Everything’s The Same”. Billy Failing is a superb banjo player and he shines here. Echoing the gospel past of country music is the song “Love Like Me”. A special treat here is the singing slide guitar of Jerry Douglas. Finally, “Freedom” sends us home to the roots of bluegrass and offers the opportunity to cue upside one and start over again.
Home: my family and my life
Bluegrass music has the same intrinsic energy and musical dynamics that fires my love for heavy metal. My parents were instrumental in my love of music. While country and bluegrass were a part of my life as a kid, I abandoned my roots for the lusty rock of Kiss. This progressed into a prog-head obsession with Rush which erupted in a metal frenzy with Randy Rhoads, Black Sabbath, Metallica, and on to death metal and beyond.
(Chuck’s mom and grandmother!)
My bluegrass roots blossomed one fateful Dark Horse 4 Elf party when I heard Rickett Pass. The fire of bluegrass with the fuck you attitude of punk was the elixir to draw this metalhead back into the fold. I started re-discovering the bluegrass that my dad had loved and the old-time country music that my mom had played on a 9 string pedal steel guitar.
With the door to my country soul opened, a wealth of Michigan artists stepped in. The magic of Jennifer Westwood and Dylan Dunbar along with artists such as Ryan Dillaha and Liz Fornal emerged during a honkytonk show at PJ’s.
Our wonderful friends Robin and Billy Scully mentioned a bluegrass night at the Chelsea Alehouse and invited us out. Here I experienced the spellbinding talent of Mark Lavengood and Jason Dennie. Mark hugged the shit out of me when I picked up a copy of his album. I was treated to more of Jason’s wonderful mandolin and vocals with future visits to see his band Thunderwüde.
Because of my love for Mark Lavengood’s music, we journeyed out to the Intersection in Grand Rapids back in 2017. He was opening up for some guy named Billy Strings. My jaw dropped at that show and I have been a fan of Billy Strings ever since. Billy Strings and Mark hooked up again last year and it was heaven.
Thank you Billy Strings. Home is a treasure chest of music. It reminds me of all the wonderful music that lead me to your music. I am looking forward to seeing Billy Strings live in the near future. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying the fabulous gift of music from you and a host of awe-inspiring Michigan artists.
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