Spotlight on Bluegrass; Part 2. Billy Strings

 Billy Strings

Billy Strings

Authenticity: it’s easy to recognize but hard to attain. In Turmoil and Tinfoil, the newest release and first solo effort from Billy Strings, the listener is witness to a self-aware and socially conscious 25-year-old man in the midst of a larger social awakening.

Not what you expect traditionally from a bluegrass album but Tinfoil and Turmoil showcases Strings’ strength in blending the traditions of bluegrass and his own experience growing up in the Mid-west hit hard by the opioid and meth epidemics.  Strings, born William Apostol, earned his chops in a picking family. He credits his father, Terry Barber, as a major influence and teacher. Barber himself is a noted picker in the Michigan bluegrass scene and raised Strings on Doc Watson and Bill Monroe. The two appear on “Memories of You,” and evoke the easy, comfortable harmony that you can expect from a father and son who’ve played together for so long.

What is so brilliant about Turmoil and Tinfoil, is the social commentary that permeates the album. Even the name is a nod to the drug experiences of Strings’ youth. Growing up in small-town Michigan, the opioid and meth epidemics ripple through his life and influence his writing. Things get weird and that’s ok.  The track “Spinning,” is a spoken word account of an acid trip. I find it incredibly refreshing that he candidly shares this experience. When you can play like Strings, you can push the boundaries of the genre.

Turmoil and Tinfoil was produced by Glenn Brown, known for his work with Greensky Bluegrass. Strings is backed by Jarrod Walker on Mandolin, Royal Massat on Bass, Billy Failing on Banjo. All have the ability to deliver the traditional bluegrass sound, while bringing the intensity that Strings’ live performances are known for to the album. “Meet Me at the Creek,” comes close to capturing his incendiary style. Since making the move to Nashville from Michigan, Strings has found his place in a talented network of friends, notably Miss Tess, Molly Tuttle, John Mailander, Shad Cobb and Peter Madcat Ruth, all of whom play on the album.  Bryan Sutton, one of the most accomplished guitarist of our day and a Bluegrass regular, appears on the only non-original track “Salty Sheep.”

 Walker, Massat, Strings,  and Failing

Walker, Massat, Strings,  and Failing

 

Billy Strings will kick-off the festivities at the Sunset Concert Series in Mountain Village Wednesday June 20. You can catch him on the Bluegrass Festival main stage from 1:30-2:45 p.m.,June 21.

Heidi Sarazen