In his short professional life, Billy Strings has proven he is aptly named, becoming a must-see live act by twisting upbeat bluegrass and acoustic Americana into expansive excursions. Now comes his second full-length studio record (following 2017’s debut Turmoil and Tinfoil) titled Home and while there are a few excessive passages, Strings rings true.
The mix of acoustical bluegrass and electric experimentation starts right from the drop as the opener and first single “Taking Water” expertly gets freaky with digital effects, announcing to the listener that Strings and company are willing to go that extra mile. “Highway Hypnosis” travels that same route with sound effects and haunting voices, putting a unique twist on the standard road song while instrumental “Guitar Peace” plays with echoes and digital bleeps. More classic bluegrass-inspired tunes like the story-based “Must Be Seven” and the up-tempo, hypnotic “Long Forgotten Dream” are just two examples of Strings lyrical expression and damn hot picking.
Strings is clearly more at home on the fast numbers (the blazing “Hollow Heart” is one example) and while ballads like “Running” and “Love Like Me” are well written, his voice needs to grow into them a bit more. Like many in these genres, Strings’ compositions can go on a bit long, however, when everything clicks, like on the almost eight-minute “Away From The Mire”, listeners will wish even more was offered.
The title track and album centerpiece prove Strings is in a sweet spot, but he is not afraid to let his activist sideshow as “Watch It Fall” addresses climate change directly calling for action around a “Shady Grove” inspired sound. The albums second side successfully displays shorter numbers like the folksy Rick Danko sounding “Enough To Leave”, harmony-laden gospel sing-a-long “Freedom” and acoustic hoedown burner “Everything’s The Same”, all proving Strings doesn’t need to jam on and on to be effective and affecting.
Unlike the more electrical jam offerings, bluegrass music works better on studio recordings as the instrumental crispness, storytelling tall tales and harmonies anchor the song, allowing the artists to still get loose. Billy Strings talents are clear as Home joins Greensky Bluegrass’s All For Money as the strongest releases in this genre for 2019.