By Scott McLennan
Billy Strings is deservedly catching fire with a unique blend of mind-snapping talent as a guitarist, deep appreciation for tradition, appetite for improvisation and experimentation, and ever-improving songwriting.
Retirements and anniversaries filled the musical calendar in 2019. So long, George Clinton. Bye, Slayer. Adios, Elton John. Cheers on turning 50, King Crimson. To the next 30, Mavericks. Tip o’ the hat to you, Hot Tuna, on your golden jubilee. Oh, and there were some memorable visits by such old friends as the Rolling Stones, Patti Smith, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, and Bob Dylan.
But it was bluegrass daredevil Billy Strings who crashed the party and made everyone take notice. Strings had a breakout year with the release of his superb album Home and exhaustive touring schedule that brought him to the House of Blues in Boston twice (as an opening act) and to the Sinclair in Cambridge for two headlining shows.
Strings is back in the area April 14 to headline the much larger Royale in Boston, and that show sold out within minutes of going on sale.
Strings, 27, is deservedly catching fire with a unique blend of mind-snapping talent as a guitarist, deep appreciation for tradition, appetite for improvisation and experimentation, and ever-improving songwriting.
At the first of his two shows at the Sinclair, Strings led his traditional bluegrass combo of banjo, mandolin, and bass through two frenetic sets that had the packed house rocking out to Bill Monroe covers and digging the twanged-up reads of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” and James Gang’s “Funk #49.”
But there was nothing gimmicky to the presentation. Rather, Strings strikes a great balance between craft and entertainment, and he has talent enough to spin those elements in myriad ways.
On Home, Strings’s original compositions even more seamlessly tie together the high lonesome sound with fresh voice and vision. Regarding this musician, you can see where he is coming from — but what makes it exciting is the not knowing exactly where he is heading.
Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to The Boston Globe, The Providence Journal, The Portland Press Herald and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.