Billy Strings: Home (Rounder Records)

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
I have been listening to this for the better part of a week and I have come to a conclusion: This is sublime. Yes, I said sublime, which is a word I don’t normally use. In this case, a word of this caliber is warranted. In the past two years, Billy Strings has gone from a regional star to being on the cusp of “making it big”. All of his concerts sell out very quickly, which means he will need to play bigger rooms to accommodate the legions of Strings fans.

Seeing Billy Strings live is a magical experience. Billy and the other three band members create such a rich and wonderful sound that two and a half hours doesn’t seem quite long enough. Billy and company play two sets, similar to the way The Grateful Dead used to. The first set, usually about an hour, is the straight forward set. The second set is where a lot of the jamming and improvising takes place. To watch these four top notch musicians trade licks is absolutely astounding.
Can this live experience translate into a good album? That was something the Grateful Dead never quite mastered. They never really found a way to capture that live energy on any studio recordings. Billy and the band were totally able to capture a good portion of that live energy on “Home”. The album is well produced, but not overproduced. Considering there are no drums on this entire recording, the songs still are bound together beautifully and have a clear beginning, middle, and end. There is also a good mixture of the standard bluegrass tunes, as well as some of the longer jams that take a right and head straight for outer space. The balance is there and that’s what make this album so darned listenable.
Highway Hypnosis (Track 8) is an autobiographical account about the rigors of being on the road all the time. “I’m burnin’, I’m smokin’, I’ve got to keep these wheels a turnin'”, proclaims Billy in the opening lines. If that doesn’t sound like the words of a road worn troubadour, I don’t know what does. This is a bitter sweet anecdote about how difficult it is to be a perpetually touring musician. About halfway through the song is an almost psychedelic interlude with “highway noises” which really adds to the story. It is three dimensional. And that voice is perfect – strong with incredible range.
There is plenty of spacey and heavenly jamming on this album. Away From The Mire (Track 4) is a perfect example of a song that veers toward the further reaches of the galaxy. Even though the song is seven minutes plus, it is still incredibly listenable, if not downright pleasurable. The vocals and musicianship add that something extra on this track and all the others. I don’t know how they do it, but they can play fast and slow at the same time. And it sounds glorious.
“Home” explores a lot of ground from country to psychedelia and a lot of stops in between. I find it so refreshing that the album caps off with a traditional bluegrass song. Freedom (Track 14) is a Billy Strings original but you would swear it was written 100 years ago in some Kentucky Holler. It is the genuine article. And when you hear those harmonies, I dare you not to cry. I double dog dare ya.
This album is 14 songs and a very respectable 60 minutes. In addition to getting some of the finest musicianship, vocals, and showmanship anywhere, you get an additional 20 minutes of music. That is value added, my friends. This is one of the best albums of 2019 and one for the ages.
Listen to Home
Buy Home

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