Early in their 12-year career, the Infamous Stringdusters had a mission that was plenty ambitious.
"Originally, our goals were almost strictly musical, I think, being the best improvisational progressive bluegrass-based band we could be," said Andy Hall, dobro player in the group.
If you go
› What: The Infamous Stringdusters
› Where: The Signal, 1810 Chestnut St.
› When: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 2
› Admission: $20 and $40
› For more information: 423-498-4700
"As we've grown and matured, a higher goal has come to the forefront. And that is the idea of bringing joy (to people)," said Hall. "The idea of being the hottest pickers or that sort of thing, it's still fun, but it's become less important than the idea of connecting with fans and bringing joy to their lives."
There's no better example of that mission at work than "Rise Sun," the new studio album the Infamous Stringdusters will release April 5.
"Overall, from the first song being 'Rise Sun' to the last song, there's really an element of an uplifting, hopeful vibe that we really wanted to capture," Hall said.
"We want to use the album as an opportunity to uplift people and make them feel good and hopeful. So there is almost this spiritual element to the record; certainly not religious in any way, but just that there's something deeper. There's love, there's understanding, there's togetherness and all those things have been infused into these songs. That's what we're trying to promote. Yeah, there are hard times, but there's hope, there's fun, there's joy. That has really coalesced on this album."
Local fans can be among the first to hear that new music when The Infamous Stringdusters stop in The Signal on Tuesday, April 2, for an 8:30 p.m. show.
Musically, "Rise Sun" fits nicely within the catalog of the Infamous Stringdusters, which now numbers eight studio albums. As on the earlier albums, the new songs are rooted in bluegrass. But uptempo numbers like "Rise Sun," "Comin' Again" and "Carry Me Away" possess an energy that's more akin to rock 'n' roll and vocal melodies that are richer and more developed than what's typical in bluegrass.
Combining energy and melody has long been a trait of The Infamous Stringdusters, but the group's sound has grown more seamless over time.
In addition, the scope of the band's music widens a bit with this latest collection. "Long Time Gone" has almost a cowboy country feel in its twangy sound. "Somewhere in Between" hints at a mix of gospel, country and bluegrass. And on songs like that latter tune, "Thunder" and "Truth and Love," the Infamous Stringdusters slow their roll, while still finding ways to embue those ballads with an edge and hooks that hold one's attention.
What's more, the band, which includes Hall, fiddle player Jeremy Garrett, bassist Travis Book, guitarist Andy Falco and banjo player Chris Pandolfi, has been progressing with its live shows. Over the past couple of years, the group has been using improvised segues or instrumental segments to weave together several songs into longer pieces within the show. Hall said this creates fewer breaks between songs and gives the show a better flow from start to finish.
The band has continued its tradition of changing up set lists from show to show. But in addition to starting to add in songs from "Rise Sun," The Infamous Stringdusters have taken steps to make the shows even more varied from night to night.
"We have a huge repertoire right now, and as of this year, we've really made a point to try to use more of it than we had in the last year," Hall said.
"In the last year, we would kind of focus on certain songs that we felt were strong and we would do them more. But we've made an effort to really incorporate a lot of the good music that sometimes just falls by the wayside because we have so much. So we've gotten more organized with having song lists that dig a little bit deeper into our original catalog and we mix up the sets even more."