Photograph: Joshua Black Wilkins
By Kenny Berkowitz
When Billy Strings was two years previous, his organic father died from a heroin overdose. That makes Terry Barber—an newbie bluegrass musician who married Strings’ mom—the person he calls dad. And that makes Me/And/Dad a fortunately unlikely consequence for father and son, an opportunity to file an album rooted so deeply in reminiscence and gratitude, habit and restoration.
These are songs Strings first heard as a boy, the traditional nation weepers of George Jones (“Life to Go”), proto-bluegrass of the Monroe Brothers (“Lengthy Journey House”), old-time gospel of Jimmy Martin (“Little White Church”), and flatpicked people of Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton (“Peartree”). They’re tunes he’s been taking part in since he was sufficiently old to carry a guitar, and when he and Barber play them now—Strings on a 1944 Martin D-28 and Barber on a 1993 Martin D-93 that Strings tracked down after Barber pawned it—they channel two lifetimes filled with remorse, loss, and disappointment.
On songs like Lester Flatt’s “Little Cabin House on the Hill,” they sound as shut as brothers, and although Strings might play circles round his dad (or simply about anybody else), all the pieces on this album is designed to maintain Barber within the highlight, having fun with the once-in-a-lifetime, dream-come-true assist of Mike Bub (bass), Michael Cleveland (fiddle), Rob McCoury (banjo), Ron McCoury (mandolin), Jerry Douglas (resophonic guitar), and Jason Carter (fiddle). It’s an album as old school as a crew-cut, and better of all, Barber is greater than adequate for middle stage. Who’da thunk it?
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