High Fidelity are doing quite a lot in their new album Banjo Player’s Blues, but dabbling in filler is definitely not a part of their program. Thirteen tracks and countless moments of catharsis created by rhythm and rhyme alone can be located in Banjo Player’s Blues, but despite the ambitious nature of the LP’s structure, listening to it from beginning to end never feels like a chore. This is a mature look for bluegrass unfettered by alternative fashions and it’s hitting record store shelves at a time when such a product is in higher demand than ever before.
As swift as the rhythmic current feels in songs like “The South Bound Train” and self-explanatory “Feudin’ Banjos,” there’s nothing in either of these tracks – nor the other eleven on Banjo Player’s Blues – that sounds rushed or thrown together at all. On the contrary, there’s a patient positioning to almost every groove in this album, and scarcely an instance in which High Fidelity sound even a little unprepared in their assault on the audience. They’re a well-rehearsed bunch, but perhaps more importantly, they identify with the content of their material as much (if not more) than they do with each other when they’re in the studio.
“The Picture on the Wall,” “Take My Ring From Your Finger” and “Dear God” each have an intimate quality to their melodicism that I think would sound even more embracive live. As a medley, a lot of these songs could bleed into one another to create a fantastic picture window into the world of bluegrass for anyone who has never had the experience of visiting its native soil for themselves. Whether or not it was the intention of High Fidelity remains a mystery, but from where I sit, I get the impression that Banjo Player’s Blues was primarily designed as a vehicle to advertise this band’s stage show.
I definitely detect some strong country/western influence on the harmonies in “Tears of Regret,” “Got a Little Light,” “You Made the Break” and “Old Home Place.” Including this kind of crossover content isn’t as easy as it might sound on paper for a band like High Fidelity; a good chunk of this disc is, in fact, dedicated to pure bluegrass that contradicts the aesthetics of these songs. That said, the eclecticism of Banjo Player’s Blues is probably what makes it sound and feel so refreshing this June (in addition to its sporting a lovely and highly-skilled cast of creative contributors).
Bluegrass insiders have been telling me good things about High Fidelity for a few months now, but until I gave their new LP a spin for myself, I didn’t realize what I had been missing. Banjo Player’s Blues has the makings of being a genuine turning-point for this band, and if its most sterling songs can get into rotation anywhere on the country dial in 2020, I don’t think mainstream spotlight will evade the group for very much longer. They’re onto something really good here, and I can’t wait to see how it pans out in the future.