A steely take on the world by Grammy winning, progressive, bluegrass band.
The cover of The Infamous Stringdusters’ latest studio album, ‘Toward The Fray’, features an image of a young girl clutching a teddy bear. She’s standing in the middle of an empty highway flanked by ruined buildings. Although her face is obscured by a gas mask, she’s staring defiantly into the distance. The cover art and songs on this album are prescient given the war raging in Ukraine and the general state of the world. Many of the songs on this album paint dark vistas. However, the Infamous Stringdusters’ founder and fiddle player, Jeremy Garrett, doesn’t necessarily agree that their latest release is especially bleak, although his mother did raise concerns about the cover. Garrett sees the album as a ‘lighter’ record, in the sense that it sheds light on subjects that are often difficult to talk about and which are often not raised by bluegrass musicians.
The song ‘I Didn’t Know’ was written after Garrett saw the murder of George Floyd on television. It commences with lines such as ‘The news just keeps replayin’ in my head’ and ‘It feels like I’m going off to war’. The chorus ends with ‘I didn’t know that we were headed for our darkest days’. Although the subject matter is dark, the song’s empathetic, with Garrett admitting, that as a white, middle aged man, he’s been standing on the ‘easy side’, ignorant of the fear and hatred that so many people of colour live with every day. The title track, ‘Toward The Fray’, written by the band’s guitarist Andy Falco, covers a similar subject commencing with ‘Death unfolds before my eyes, A frightened man’s unheeded cries, People, oh, people, trapped beneath the knee, Of the law gone wrong and the force of history’.
Garrett also contributed ‘Hard Line’ to the album, which is driven forward by his fiddle and Chris Pandolfi’s banjo. It comes from questioning why some people choose such stubborn, hard lines on the various issues of the day. It issues a plea to ‘Have a conversation across the great divide, Listen to the voices coming from the other side’ and that ‘The truth can’t be just what you choose’. It’s not all gloom and doom though. The instrumental tune, ‘Revolution’, features a great upbeat fiddle solo and ‘I’m Not Alone’ offers some hope.
Garrett has admitted that, in the past, the ‘Dusters have have made some ‘fluffy’ records. Musically ‘Toward The Fray’ finds the Infamous Stringdusters not only at the very top of their game, but adding some steel to their songs, not just by it being the first of their albums to feature drums, but by addressing the problems of the world head on. If you’re a fan of any form of bluegrass this album is well worth a listen.