Album Review – Billy Strings in “Turmoil & Tinfoil”
If you’re looking for the sphere of country music where the most strict adherence to the roots of the genre still reside, it’s most certainly in bluegrass. While the top names in country have virtually no commonality with where the genre started, you can still hear the ghost of Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys in the turns of the mandolin and the fiddle in a bluegrass reel, and feel the primordial pull of wood and wire articulating rhythms and melodies that are both delightfully arcane and infinitely timeless, reminding you of days past, yet still prescient in their scope and importance as the days they were first discovered.
Despite the buttoned-up, strict adherence to certain guidelines and instrumentation that bluegrass complies to, it is the complexity of the art form that has always made it a springboard to even greater musical landscapes, becoming a starting point for jam bands and psychedelic explorers to set off in expansive journeys to the edges of recorded music. Though this may seem the polar opposite of the perfectitude of Del McCoury’s hairdo, it’s the ability of bluegrass to unlock certain realms of your mind that make this very strict art form a portal to endless sonic possibilities.
With so many young students of bluegrass benefiting from the access to instruction and instruments these days, and the abundance of established maestros at every station in scores of professional bluegrass outfits, it really takes something exceptional to separate itself from the norm of blinding extemporaneous mastery that persists in the discipline. Songwriting is one way you can delineate yourself and find a space unique in the genre, like we’ve seen from younger stars like Sarah Jarosz and Sierra Hull. Exploring new sonic avenues is another.
While some try to sell you on the idea that adhering to certain genres or traditional instrumentation is a severe limitation on creativity, some of the most brilliant musicians are the ones who are able to work within the confines of severe limitations and still tap into originality and undiscovered musical vistas that dazzle the spirit in unique ways. This is what come of age prodigy and revered bluegrass player Billy Strings does in his debut solo LP Turmoil & Tinfoil. Having worked alongside fiddle and mandolin player Don Julin along with other apprenticeships in the past, this new album is Billy Strings spreading his own wings for the first time, and soaring.
If anything, a bluegrass connoisseur might be a little intimidated by the talk of psychedelic and jam band influences working into the calculus of this Billy Strings debut, but what you’ll find is a record that is delightfully and solidly bluegrass, yet instilled with an invigorated, youthful spirit that is unfortunately sometimes a place apart from the norms of the bluegrass world. It takes a certain genteel reservation to perfect bluegrass, even when you’re on a blistering, fast-paced run. But Billy is able to channel an exuberance for the music into compositions that are both exploding with energy, yet refined in delivery.
That doesn’t mean things don’t get a little weird in moments, in a good way. The Unidentified Flying Object sounds that appear at the beginning of “Turmoil & Tinfoil” and “Pyramid Country” are just enough texture to break the monotony many bluegrass records suffer from in in eddies of mandolin chucks and straight-faced sameness. The acid trip recollection of “Spinning” did feel a little superfluous, though it fits within the spirit of this work. It may be a stretch to call Turmoil & Tinfoil conceptualized, but it does pay greater attention to the song cycle than most, and a song like “Doin’ Things Right” helps sets the moral of this record about the nature of humanity and the oneness that is necessary for true happiness and enlightenment.
Often though in Turmoil & Tinfoil it’s simply the masterful instrumentation on display in songs like the 9-minute “Meet Me At The Creek” that get you lost in the cosmic beauty, not some overlayed production element, while songs like “All of Tomorrow” and the jaw harp-heavy “Living Like An Animal” are delightfully primitive in scope.
Bluegrass, just like all of music, must evolve to stay relevant to modern ears. Yet doing so within the discipline where the roots of the music remain in tact is the trick that takes an additional level of ingenuity and passion to accomplish. And this is what Billy Strings does with Turmoil & Tinfoil.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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Purchase Turmoil & Tinfoil from Billy Strings
September 26, 2017 @ 8:35 am
This sounds like an interesting listen. Think I might stop by my local record store and see if they can’t order a copy.
I miss Stevie Gaines
September 26, 2017 @ 8:53 am
Pretty cool 9 minutes for a bluegrass song +1!
September 26, 2017 @ 9:18 am
Don’t know where you find this stuff, but thanks for this. Fantastic.
September 26, 2017 @ 9:45 am
I am glad you reviewed this one, I’ve been following Billy Strings for a couple years now, and he is one hell of a player. This album is a sold bluegrass album, and he has put together a lot of amazing talent on it. It’s good to hear bluegrass evolve and being modernized without losing its roots. I’m really excited to see Billy Strings continue to shred that guitar.
September 26, 2017 @ 10:00 am
Great stuff! I looked up his schedule to find he will be in Columbus, OH this Thursday but that’s the same night that I’ll be at Colter Wall and Tyler Childers when they are in town. I guess a good problem to have! Lol. Next time through I’ll definitely be going to see him live though.
September 26, 2017 @ 10:26 am
Any idea who did the album art? Looks like a cross between Wes Freed and Erol Otus.
November 12, 2017 @ 9:27 pm
JJ Horner out of Phoenix. You can find him on IG @jojamhorner
September 26, 2017 @ 10:38 am
How old is he? He looks like he’s only a teenager to me, his voice sounds a bit older though. Anyway time is on his side…
November 12, 2017 @ 9:28 pm
Graduated from high school in 2011.
September 26, 2017 @ 11:12 am
I saw him at Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival over the summer. He blew my mind. This kid can flat out play.
September 26, 2017 @ 11:49 am
With a name like “Billy Strings,” …
September 27, 2017 @ 5:34 am
this guy lives near me I see him around town all the time he’s the real deal
Honest Charlie's Productions
September 26, 2017 @ 1:17 pm
How many years ago did I send you a message telling you this kid was great and representing Traverse City, MI well? 4 at least.. 🙂
September 26, 2017 @ 2:24 pm
Better late than never I guess 🙂
After being burned a few times, my stance on prodigies lately has been to wait in see what they develop into first. One of the hardest things in music is for a prodigy to make the leap to a full-time music career. But Billy has pulled it off. I truly think he’s going to be a leader for bluegrass for a new generation.
September 26, 2017 @ 4:00 pm
bluegrass should stay bluegrass, which means introducing new dissonances gradually and staying largely within form and rhythm
anything else is newgrass, which is fine, but not bluegrass
billy strings is a great talent, check out his bluegrass work on that 1935 Martin at Carter’s on YouTube, stellar
September 26, 2017 @ 1:47 pm
Bet this guy didn’t move to Dripping Springs with his horses.
September 26, 2017 @ 3:42 pm
Billy brings it, of that there is no doubt. He is one of the many younger acts that are breathing something new and exciting into Bluegrass. And I believe a lot of their influences can be traced back to Sam Bush and the New Grass he helped pioneer in the ’70s, much to the consternation of the traditionalists. I love that these younger guys still honor the old traditional masters while kicking a bit of ass at the same time. This is a genre that is evolving but not losing touch with it’s heritage.
September 26, 2017 @ 4:00 pm
September 26, 2017 @ 4:29 pm
If you like Billy and don’t already consider yourself a fan of the genre , dive on in . There is more great playing , singing and songwriting going on in ‘bluegrass’ music right now than in just about all of the other genre’s combined . It’s such a rewarding journey at every turn whether it be the character of a sincere and completely capable pitch-perfect vocalist , the artistry of a song CRAFTSMAN ..or the incredibly inspiring talents and creative forays of one of the many HOT acoustic instrumentalists gracing the scene ….the list of authentic talent ——honest-to-goodness jaw- dropping foot -tapping heartfelt TALENT is endless . You WILL NOT FIND this level and these standards anywhere in mainstream country music right now , save for a very , very few gifted vocalists tapping the right writer for a solid song . ‘ Grass Rules ! Oh ..and be forewarned ….this stuff is so good its ADDICTIVE !
September 26, 2017 @ 5:54 pm
I’m a huge fan of The Travelin’ McCourys. They aren’t what you would call young guys but the talent is stunning and the places they go musically amazes me. Blows me away when they do a set of Dead tunes which they call the Grateful Ball. Jerry would be proud of the way they grass up those songs. Jeff Austin, Greensky Bluegrass. Infamous Stringdusters. and the list goes on. Lots of really talented acts out there spreading the Bluegrass gospel. It’s my favourite genre of music too Albert. It’s hard to sit still when that sound starts working its way into your soul. Bluegrass Rules!
September 27, 2017 @ 6:02 am
Del McCoury is one of the greatest period. Seen him more times than I can count. I am very familiar with his sons as they are in his band. I have not seen his sons ” side” band Traveling McCourys. So they are doing the le
September 29, 2017 @ 11:55 am
Love the Infamous Stringdusters.
September 27, 2017 @ 6:09 am
Crap, phone is on auto pilot. I was saying that with Traveling McCourys they are doing Dead covers? Hmm. Not sure that sounds appealing, do they do originals too? Yes jeff Austin is good but never should have left Yonder mountain. Infamous String dusters are great , no doubt. Anyhow, a new young gun like Billy is exciting to see.
September 27, 2017 @ 10:05 am
Kevin Smith, They do originals plus a couple of Waylon tunes and other covers that they grass up in their main set list. The Grateful Ball is a separate thing entirely and I don’t believe they do it at every show they play. I think it is something that happens at some of the newer festivals only and not the more established ones like Bean Blossom. You should search Grateful Ball on YT and check it out or just check out Travelin’ McCourys in general. I love Del and the old stuff too but when the old man is resting his kids and band really crank it up a notch. Ronnie Mc, Jason Carter and Alan Bertram are all great singers and players and Cody Kilby flies on the flat top like he never could often in Kentucky Thunder. I’m sure you wont be disappointed.
September 27, 2017 @ 7:25 am
Talkin’ about great guitar pickers, are you gonna review the latest David Rawlings Trig? I found it brilliant! thanx,ciao.
September 28, 2017 @ 4:31 am
I have seen him several times and am a complete fan. At Red Wing Roots this summer he did a set on Sat. Night before Steve Earle closed out the night. Besides a set that soared, there were a couple things that stood out. On the two sides of this stage are steps that lead to landings on the right and left of the stage. During his entire set, these stairs and landings were full of members from other bands. These other musicians were into it as much, or more than the audience. This festival works on basically two stages. When one set ends on one stage, the next artist starts on the other stage with almost no gap in the music. This means the flow does not lend itself for encores. After Billy’s set, the crowd was going wild. They were not going to quit trying to bring him back out, even though The Steve Earle Band had started. Billy looked to those in charge for directions as to what he should do. They let him back out and what he did showed how much of a seasoned mentality he has for a young guy. He came out by himself and did an acappella version of “Down to the River to Pray”. This both fully satisfied the crowd and calmed them down. The guy is wiser than many performers that are much older.
Short message. If his music interests you and he does a show anywhere near you, just go.
September 28, 2017 @ 10:07 am
Fuck yeah, I love it when Bluegrass is talked about on this site. On Bluegrass forums it’s almost always scrutinization of interpretations with a foul undertone of condemnation. More about the theory and borrowed instrumental styles. Just a dick measuring contest of sorts.
On here, all of y’all form opinions on the actual content of the music. Whether I agree or disagree, I appreciate that. Good review as well Trig.
October 1, 2017 @ 9:13 am
I went to amazon to order the CD and there are no physical copies. I hate this. I want something to hold in my hand, read, put into a player. What is the rational for not pressing CDs. I ended up buying one of his earlier works instead.
October 9, 2017 @ 6:25 pm
He has them (CDs) at his shows. Maybe try his web site?
October 10, 2017 @ 5:15 pm
Thanks for reviewing this and putting it on my radar. Im absolutely blown away.
April 10, 2018 @ 8:25 am
Went and saw him recently, and it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, period, flat out, any genre, and I go to a lot of concerts. Billy was insanely skilled and spent a good deal of time talking after the show, and seemed like a really good guy.
This album is magnificent, too, I can’t recommend Billy Strings enough. And that’s because I remembered seeing this review when I saw his show came into town, thanks again for letting us know about some amazing stuff Trig.
April 11, 2018 @ 8:31 am
Love this young man as I love Dwight Yocum. A legend in the making…. I’m 65 and have seen legends.
Cried the first time I heard him play real bluegrass. OPRY PAY ATTENTION.