Album Review: The Infamous Stringdusters, ‘Toward the Fray’
The opening bars of the first track on Toward the Fray, “Hard Line,” mimic the fractiousness of the early minutes of any gathering where everybody’s talking over everybody else; every instrument skitters this way and that following along the musical theme of the song before the vocals blend in and the song takes off into a romping minor-chord groove. Fractiousness may illustrate tension on the surface, but, like this song, a unity of purpose drives what seems like scattered voices toward concord. It’s fitting that this jet-fueled rambler opens Toward the Fray, an album full of songs that ponder—sometimes joyously, other times somberly—the raggedness of human relationships, the brevity and beauty of life, and the celebration of love amidst despair.
Andy Falco’s crisp guitar fingerpicking ripples under and around the vocals in the musically spare opening verse of “I’m Not Alone,” before the song blossoms into an uplifting choral anthem about the power of community and the ways that we lift up one another out of loneliness, reminding us that indeed we don’t struggle or celebrate alone. Just as the song begins quietly, so it resolves on the outro with a sobering a cappella version of the refrain “I’m not alone.”
Shimmering notes open the pop-inflected “I Didn’t Know,” driven by Andy Hall’s frenetically unfurling dobro runs, and the band’s swirling vocal harmonies, which exquisitely lay bare the singers’ souls as they reveal their blindness to various injustices and their awakening to the truth of the divisions in the world around them.
Andy Falco wrote the title track with his late friend and writing partner Travis McKeveny, who died tragically in September 2021. The spareness of the elegiac Celtic-inflected reel, soaring on Jeremy Garrett’s fiddle strains, delivers a heart-rending tribute to McKeveny. It’s an inspiring eulogy, a reminder that friends will always be a part of each other.
The jazzy, jaunty “Pearl of Carolina,” co-written by Book and Jon Weisberger, celebrates the beauty of home; the cascading notes of banjo, dobro, mandolin, and guitar on the instrumental bridge—echoing the pure strains of mountain dulcimer—evoke the strains of springtime in Carolina and the old-time porch music of the mountains. The instrumental “Revolution” opens quietly then scampers off, with each instrument chasing a fluttering sonic riff round and round as the tune reaches its sprightly urgent climax.
The album closes with the swirling “Through the Floor,” a mediation on self-reflection; Falco’s guitar solo on the bridge echoes the crisp leads on the Allman Brothers’ “Jessica.”
On Toward the Fray The Infamous Stringdusters—Andy Hall on dobro, Andy Falco on guitar, Chris Pandolfi on banjo, Travis Book on bass, Jeremy Garrett on fiddle—are playing at the top of their game, showcasing their brilliant songwriting, their flawless harmonies, their impeccable instrumentation, and their soaring vocals.
Toward the Fray is available HERE.
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