With a sobering ache in the lead vocal that adorns the surreal sway of the strings, “The Picture on the Wall” is a track that seems to quietly creep out of the speakers and into the air around us intent on stirring up some sort of reaction. There’s an unguarded sensibility to this song, similar to what I would describe of the more singular “Dear God,” optimistic “His Charming Love” and “Take My Ring from Your Finger,” and all in all, it winds up being one of the finer elements for us to behold in High Fidelity’s second studio album Banjo Player’s Blues. Released just this past June to some strong responses from critics around the country, Banjo Player’s Blues brings High Fidelity into the next chapter of their career together the right way — with zero hesitation in the writing or the execution.
The song that bears the same name as the album itself is actually one of my favorite tracks here; aesthetically, I think the only piece that comes even lightly close to eclipsing its identity-affirming feel is “Turkey in the Straw.” Ramblers like this song, the breakneck “The South Bound Train” and Jesse McReynolds-featured “Tears of Regret” (available as a video as well) establish High Fidelity as a bluegrass-focused unit if I’ve ever heard one before, but they certainly don’t mind flirting with the frillier elements of acoustic country, old fashioned southern folk and Americana when it works well with the story they’re trying to tell.
It took a little time for me to completely appreciate what the band was attempting with “You Made the Break” and “Got a Little Light,” and though they’re two of the riskier songs on the record, they don’t sound absurdly ambitious beside any of the other material here. High Fidelity demonstrate a lot of self-control in multiple areas with Banjo Player’s Blues, and had they not been as prepared to construct this album as they so evidently were, it’s easy to see where theirs could have been just another crossover ‘grass LP to have debuted this year without its creators receiving the proper credit they rightly deserve. The talent speaks for itself in “Helen” and “Feudin’ Banjos,” and I think you’ll agree after even a more cursory listening session.
From the very second that I first heard the opening bars of “Old Home Place,” something in my gut told me I was going to like what High Fidelity are up to in Banjo Player’s Blues, and now that I’ve heard the record many times through, I can give it a very emphatic endorsement. As a bluegrass fan, this is cut and dry, meat and potatoes stuff that — against the backdrop of this alternative/progressive ‘grass seeping into the Nashville country establishment — is really pretty awesome to hear coming from a band within the actual genre. Americana buffs should be just as pleased with what they find in Banjo Player’s Blues, which has quickly become one of my go-to indie releases of this past summer.