BILLY STRINGS – Me/And/Dad (Rounder)

Me/And/DadJust turned 30 and recently named  Entertainer of the Year at the 2022 Bluegrass Awards for the second consecutive year, Strings fulfils a long-standing ambition by teaming with his stepfather Terry Barber who raised him from when he was two and introduced him to bluegrass. Joined by bassist Mike Bub, mandolinist Ron McCoury, banjo picker Rob McCoury and fiddler Michael Cleveland with guest appearances from Jerry Douglas and Jason Carter, Me/And/Dad is a collection of country and bluegrass classics with a couple of traditional tunes for good measure. It’s one such that gets the ball rolling in the shape of the pair duetting on ‘Long Journey Home’, Strings showcasing his dazzling friction burn picking and Barber on the same Martin acoustic he played when Billy was just a kid (he later had to pawn it to support the family and man and instrument were reunited some years later when Billy found it online). They follow on with an old-timey acoustic take on George Jones’s ‘Life to Go’, Barber’s somewhat gummy and grained vocals taking lead and Strings trilling banjo accompaniment. Doc Watson gets two credits, the first being the sprightly picked ‘Way Downtown’, first recorded way back in 1926, the other ‘Peartree’, a 1974 instrumental co-write with Gaither Carlton, here with Rob McCoury on claw-picked banjo who also does the business on the second, the traditional ‘Frosty Morn’ aka ‘Cold Frosty Morning’.

Staying with bluegrass and country legends, the pair duet on Hank Thompson’s fiddle waltzing  ‘Little Blossom’, a cheery ditty of a little girl being killed by her drunk daddy,  and Lester Flatt and Bill Monroe’s  bluegrass ‘Little Cabin Home on the Hill’. However, there seems to be some confusion over the waltzing ‘Wandering Boy’ which is credited to A.P.Carter, who did indeed register the lyrics to a song called ‘The Wandering Boy’ back in 1927, but what Barber is singing is actually ‘Where Is My Boy Tonight?’ (which starts with the line “where is my wandering boy tonight”), a hymnal by Robert Lowry written in 1877.

The remaining selections are mostly less well-known, Barber taking the lead on by Eugene Wellman’s bluegrass staple ‘Little White Church’ and Strings on the wonderfully maudlin ‘I Haven’t Seen Mary In Years’ (man sees a crowd at a churchyard and discovers it’s his mum’s funeral and the old man at the graveside his her estranged husband, his dad) written by Damon Black and first recorded by Mel Tillis.

Written by Ray Pennington and Roy Eugene Marcum and recorded by The Stanley Brothers in 1963, Barber’s strummed guitar anchors the duetted prison number ‘Stone Walls And Steel Bars’ while, a number he’s been playing for a few years, Strings takes charge of ‘Dig A Little Deeper (In The Well)’, written by Jody Emerson and Roger Bowling and popularised by The Oakridge Boys. Country fans will also be familiar with the duetted easy rolling swayalong ‘John Deere Tractor’, written by Lawrence Hammond and a big hit for The Judds but already a bluegrass standard after Larry Sparks recorded it in 1980.

They round it all off with another song previously recorded, in 1964 by Watson, Texicana waltzing courtroom weepie ‘Heard My Mother Weeping’, making the album even more of a family affair with Strings’ mother Debra Barber singing lead.

Punctuated here and there with some father-son chat, Me/And/Dad is perhaps something of a personal bucket list sidebar to Strings’ meteoric Grammy winning career, but the joy it exudes is irrepressible.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘John Deere Tractor’: