An online video of Billy Strings has him looking like he just came from soccer practice, picking with his father and singing a jarringly authentic rendition of “Little Cabin Home On The Hill.” Or seek out his EP, where he does one of the very best versions of the standard “Red Rocking Chair.” Then you can get an idea of, to paraphrase Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, “Who is this guy?”
A fourth-generation musician, his real-deal vocals no doubt came naturally, and he mastered bluegrass guitar – then went beyond. So following two impressive CDs of bluegrass standards with mandolinist Don Julin, his current effort consists of a dozen originals, like the extended title track, which takes bluegrass down new roads without tearing up the map.
“Salty Sheep” – a sort of a deconstruction “Red-Haired Boy” – is a guitar duet with Bryan Sutton, while the opening “On The Line” comes out of the blocks blazing.
His top-flight cast of pickers includes mandolinist Drew Matulich, bassist Brad Tucker, fiddlers Shad Cobb and John Mailander, and singer Molly Tuttle (a fine flatpicker herself).
Strings brings things full-circle with Dad (Terry Barber) joining in on “These Memories Of You” – not to be confused with banjoist Alan O’Bryant’s “Those Memories Of You.”
This article originally appeared in VG February 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.