In the late 2010s, bluegrass started to make a big comeback that would see its fan base grow substantially – particularly among independent channels and alternative artists – and in the year 2020, I think it would be safe to say that the genre is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. Banjo Player’s Blues, the new album from the band High Fidelity, isn’t necessarily the culmination of a revolution in bluegrass music, but it certainly plays out like an integral part of the movement when listening to it without interruption. Made up of songs like the dynamic “The South Bound Train,” “Take My Ring From Your Finger” and “The Picture on the Wall,” Banjo Player’s Blues is an introduction to contemporary bluegrass that doesn’t demand a Ph.D. in Appalachian history to be appreciated by listeners.
Instrumentally speaking, there’s not a lot of ego-stroking in this album at all. Even virtuosic tunes like “Feudin’ Banjos” and the prolifically melodic “Old Home Place” lack the arrogant extravagances that some of the mainstream bluegrass content I’ve heard in 2020 has been plagued with, and although it’s obvious that High Fidelity can shred through just about any kind of composition they want, I really love their choosing to keep things relatively simple in this record. There’s no need to go after theatrics and uncommonly buoyant beats when your group is creating harmonies like those in “Helen,” and I doubt that I’m the only music journalist to have said as much in the last couple of months leading up to this LP’s arrival.
I would really like to hear the title track, “You Made the Break,” “Tears of Regret,” “Got a Little Light” and “Dear God” live at some point in the future, as these songs feel like they could inspire a really amazing medley if presented to the right audience in the right venue. The best thing about bluegrass is that, when it’s properly handled, it doesn’t need a lot of extra pizzazz from players to ache with the kind of emotionality that an ancient poem or even classical symphonic music would. This is, after all, the soundtrack of a culture that has survived through even the most incredibly bitter conditions that American history could ever have thrown in its direction.
Those who like to consider themselves bluegrass buffs have no business missing out on High Fidelity’s Banjo Player’s Blues this June 12th. Despite there being more interesting ‘grass releases due out in 2020 than there was in 2018 or 2019, I think this record has a chance to stick out among the crowded talent pool as one of the more efficient and well-thought out LPs from the underground available to fans this season. Summer is finally starting to get into full swing, and with the marvelous rhythm that this effort has to share, there’s no reason why Banjo Player’s Blues shouldn’t do well with both the audience that it was tailor-made for as well as a general public looking to get their bluegrass fix on before the year 2020 suddenly shifts into 2021.
by Bethany Page