The Infamous Stringdusters have made a career out of bending the rules of bluegrass and stretching the boundaries of acoustic music, and with their sixth studio album, they not only mess around with their own formula but strike a blow for gender equality, at least within their own ranks. The title Ladies & Gentlemen refers to the album's concept -- the all-male Stringdusters invited a different female guest vocalist to appear on each of these 11 tracks, with each singing an original song that was written by the group with them in mind. (The sole exception is the closing number, "Hazosphere," an instrumental that features guest soloist Jennifer Hartswick on trumpet.
Every so often, a celebrated band moves beyond its public-purported bearings into conceptual territory that few could have surmised as their next big step. Ladies & Gentlemen is that big step for the revered progressive acoustic band, the Infamous Stringdusters. Even if it makes total sense on paper to introduce a slew of talented women to what, so far, has been an all-guys’ affair, it’s more that the Stringdusters have become infamous for their individual talents that one could have more safely predicted that they would simply release another album devised amongst themselves—maybe with a collaboration or two here or there—and believed that they would have been right.
Sometimes a gimmick — or call it a concept — is just what a band needs to outdo itself. Infamous Stringdusters is a virtuoso five-man string band, rooted in bluegrass but ready to stretch, that made its name on the Americana circuit. Its new album, “Ladies and Gentlemen” (The Infamous Stringdusters/Compass), features a female guest lead singer on every song (except for an instrumental topped by Jennifer Heartswick on trumpet) above the Stringdusters’ self-effacing vocal harmonies and precisely homespun arrangements.