Review: Infamous Stringduster – Ladies & Gentlemen

The Infamous Stringdusters came on the scene in 2007 and, right out of the gate, commanded a lot of attention, a lot of accolades, and some very impressive awards. That same year they won the International Bluegrass Music Association Emerging Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and, in 2011, went on to win Entertainer of the Year from the IBMA as well as a Grammy nod.

Awards only go so far, of course, but that kind of recognition is emblematic of the band as well as the audience. The Stringdusters brought a very urban, polished and pop-oriented sound that was embraced by everyone who heard them. Their stage presence appeals to those who like a show, a bit of sexiness, and some edge. And, frankly, who doesn’t? At least sometimes, anyway.

The line-up has changed a bit since then, most notably the loss of Chris Eldridge to the Punch Brothers, though the project remains the same: to present a young, fresh, polished sound that appeals to a very wide audience.

This project is more gimmicky than anything they’ve done before. Eleven tracks, each with a different singer, all of them women. Get it? Ladies and Gentlemen? They’re the gentlemen, and then they ask a bunch of ladies to sing with them. Neat! Well, sort of.

“Still The One”

The singers here range from the very photogenic, yet tortured vocals of Joss Stone, to Clair Lynch and the ubiquitous Aoife O’Donovan. It all works no better or worse than you might expect. It’s not an album, but rather eleven songs, much like the duets albums that big stars do in order to gain some press, such as Elton John and Tony Bennett. The feeling is granular, with some of the vocalists applying their talents well, while others are given songs that for whatever reason don’t work as well. Sometimes, it’s the context. The Mary Chapin Carpenter track is unfortunate—it sounds like she was given a task to do, rather than a song to sing. Listening to it is a task, too.

I’m always interested to see what the Stringdusters are up to. They are truly exceptional instrumentalists. It’s the concepts that they don’t do as well. This album is an example of that.

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