From the March/April 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Kenny Berkowitz
Home begins with 30 seconds of down-tempo guitar arpeggio and fiddle birdsong. It ends with the full quartet—Billy Strings (guitar), Billy Failing (banjo), Royal Massat (upright bass), and Jarrod Walker (mandolin)—crashing through a cover of Bill Monroe’s “Big Sandy River.” In between, there’s an hour of bluegrass played with a 26-year-old’s intensity, a hearty dose of psychedelia, and undeniable star appeal. Born William Apostol, Strings has it all: incomparable chops, powerful vocals, and songwriting smarts.
Songs like the opening “Taking Water” can pass for classic bluegrass, with three-finger banjo, boom-chuck guitar, crying fiddle, four-part harmonies, and clear echoes of Jimmy Martin and Flatt & Scruggs. But elsewhere, you can hear everything else Apostol listened to growing up, especially Pearl Jam, Jimi Hendrix, and Slayer. Trad bluegrass lyrics about “cold, cold ashes” and “that mournful sound” quickly give way to lines about dying friends, decaying cities, memories too painful to recall, and “the empty spot in me/where my hometown used to be.”
Songs like “Away from the Mire” and “Home” start as singer-songwriter folk before transforming into seven-minute bluegrass epics, complete with psychedelic electric guitar, sitar, keyboard effects, string sections, and fiddle reverb that ultimately resolve themselves into the sound of one flatpicked acoustic guitar. That’s what he does on “Guitar Peace” too, a four-minute instrumental, and it’s the most startling thing about the album: the way Strings can channel the Grand Ole Opry one minute, fly his freak flag the next, and be perfectly at home in both.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.