The Infamous Stringdusters
Laws of Gravity
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
If 2016’s Ladies & Gentlemen found the Infamous Stringdusters moving into a more soulful arena helped by guesting female vocalists, then a year later the quintet returns to the rootsy sound they have cultivated for over a decade. On studio release number seven, the five members keep the visitors to a minimum (nominal piano and percussion augment only a handful of tracks), stick to the basics and knock out 13 relatively stripped-down tunes that fit neatly into their existing catalog.
Musically, the Stringdusters aren’t expanding the string band boundaries here. Rather they rely on a faithful lineup of unplugged guitar, fiddle, stand-up bass, banjo and dobro to set these originals in motion. Rugged vocal harmonies also push the songs along, but it’s the melodies of tracks such as the introspective “Soul Searching,” perhaps the disc’s thematic centerpiece, that advance the Stringdusters a few steps ahead of the competition.
There’s a sense of dashed dreams and navigating the vagaries of life in selections like the self-explanatory “A Hard Life Makes a Good Song,” “Gravity” and “Vertigo,” all of which bring an organic vibe to the words, reflected in the sometimes blues-tinged music. The story song “Maxwell” tells the tale of the titular character, an “only child left alone, mother dead and his father’s gone,” who regrets his monetarily successful yet lonely, loveless life. The frustration of the old giving way to the new is explored in the reflective, melancholy “This Ol’ Building” and just in case you thought the Stringdusters were getting soft instrumentally, there is the frantic prog-jam “Black Elk” to prove these guys will never let dust collect on their strings.
There’s plenty to be said for a band of veterans playing in top form, pleasing an established audience with tight tunes and interaction honed over hundreds of live dates. They may not be exploring new roots but neither are the Stringdusters floating into space on Laws of Gravity, one of their finest sets of new material.