As crisp as a springtime breeze, the strings dance with a freewheeling passion in “Tears of Regret,” echoing the same degree of emotion as we hear in “Dear God,” only at a different tempo. Tonal expressiveness is a cornerstone of these two tracks, as well as the galloping “Turkey in the Straw,” “Feudin’ Banjos” and “Old Home Place.” Whether the guitar strings lead the way, such as in “His Charming Love,” or those of an evocative banjo take the helm – “Take My Ring From Your Finger,” “The South Bound Train” – superb instrumentation is the bread and butter of every track on High Fidelity’s Banjo Player’s Blues LP, which is set to come out this June 20th. As their name implies, High Fidelity are a band that prioritize the colorful detail within their music more than the average bluegrass crew does, and they definitely live up to a high standard in this second release for Rebel Records . Banjo Player’s Blues is a thirteen-song odyssey, and if you ask me, I think it’s one of the more engaging records to debut out of the bluegrass underground in the last couple of years – for more reasons than the obvious, I might add.
No matter where we turn in this tracklist, the string play dominates the spotlight. “You Made the Break” isn’t as sophisticated in structure as “The Picture on the Wall” or “The South Bound Train” are, and yet it feels just as complex when isolating its instrumental edge from the vocal harmony. The master mix definitely creates some extra depth for our singers in “Dear God” and the beautifully melodic “Helen,” but I would stop short of suggesting that it’s responsible for the full-bodied tone of the crooning – that much feels completely natural. I really like the fact that High Fidelity are utilizing every part of their studio weaponry without sounding synthetic in songs like “His Charming Love,” “Got a Little Light” and the jittery “Feudin’ Banjos,” and it would be nice to see their peers adopt a similar approach to producing in this new decade. Overdoing a record like Banjo Player’s Blues would have been pretty easy for any artist or producer to do (and ultimately damning for High Fidelity in their scene), but through their careful work here, they deliver something worthy of bluegrass fans everywhere this summer.
I hadn’t listened to High Fidelity very much prior to hearing this new LP for the first time just the other day, but I can definitely understand why some of my colleagues have taken to their content with as much zeal as they have this season. They’ve got shades of a rustic sound that I would really love to hear more of in their future output, but as far as their overall style is concerned, I think they’re doing everything that they should be in Banjo Player’s Blues to ensure growth and development through the 2020s. There are a lot of country and bluegrass bands exploring deeper elements of Americana right now, but this group has a sense of inspired originality that not many others possess. I do not believe Banjo Player’s Blues is their peak, but it’s absolutely an album you should listen to this summer if you love contemporary bluegrass.