After spending a decade building a following across multiple genres of music, Billy Strings was ready to see his career explode at the beginning of 2020. Having started playing professionally in 2012, Strings first garnered attention in the Bluegrass world, being invited on stage by such notables as Dierks Bentley, David Grisman and Sam Bush, but saw his reach and impact widen as Bluegrass-leaning Jam bands – such as Greensky Bluegrass, The Infamous Stringdusters, String Cheese Incident and Leftover Salmon – also invited him to bring his unique and compelling playing on stage with them. With tours selling out and his appeal widening, Strings then scored the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album for his 2019 release, Home. With no obstacles in sight to hinder his career growth, Strings was optimistic about his career arc at the beginning of 2020, only to see everything grind to a halt in the wake of a global pandemic. Strings used that time to ready his follow-up release and first for Rounder/Concord, Renewal.
“I called my last record Home, and then a few months later that’s where we all got stuck,” recalls Strings. “Right now, we’re heading back into opening back up, and doing some more touring with real concerts and real shows. Hopefully we can renew everything. I think it’s an interesting word. It reminds me of how every morning is a renewed day and another chance.”
Another chance is exactly what Renewal represents. After overcoming the challenges of substance abuse fueled by a tumultuous childhood, Stings musically marries the energy of traditional Bluegrass to the improvisation of Jam bands on his Rounder debut. The subject matter ranges through love (“In The Morning Light”), depression (“Nothing’s Working”), and substance abuse (“The Fire On My Tongue”), all delivered through a lens of hope, but the focus is on the playing with stellar musicianship highlighting the instrumentals “Ice Bridges” and “Running The Route,” as well as the 9-minute improv vehicle “Hide and Seek.”
Triple A non-comms are showing strong support for the full album Renewal, while an impressive showing of both commercial and non-comm stations like WXPN, WRSI, Colorado Sound, KMTN, WYEP, WUIN and WAPS are putting their commitment behind the single “Fire Line.”
Photo by Jesse Faatz