Ordinarily, recordings with this many standards elicit a general yawn. What saves it is the technical skill level of the performers—Billy Strings on guitar and lead vocals and Don Julin on the mandolin and occasional harmony. What really saves it, lifting it to the level of a truly exciting recording, is the intensity of the performances.
Part of the intensity is speed. No less than eight of the seventeen tracks, including “Beaumont Rag,” “Open Up Them Pearly Gates,” “Poor Ellen Smith,” and “Little Maggie,” move along at a good clip. Several others are not far off. Both Julin and Strings obviously enjoy airing it out and do so in an approach that hearkens to an older performance style. While there are moments and segments in which modern techniques and ideas appear (their instrumental version of “I Am A Pilgrim”), the playing is in that rapid, staccato, wall-of-sound solo style of the early 1970s. Strings plays largely as Doc Watson would on faster tunes, blending in touches of Clarence White and Tony Rice. Julin favors a propulsive continuous right-hand technique reminiscent of Monroe in the Bill and Charlie days, creating lots of drive and fire. Together they roar, be it on the instrumental “Salt Creek”/“Old Joe Clark” or on “Sharecroppers Son” that features Strings’ raspy and rhythmically precise vocals.
Add in a handful of slower and more rhythmic songs—“Walk On Boy,” “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz,” and an evocative “Miss The Mississippi And You”—and you have an album that shows there is life left in these old songs. If they’re handled this well, that is. Eight of the tracks are recorded live, so there is some lesser sound quality. (www.billystrings.com)BW