The Infamous Stringdusters’ Chris Pandolfi Talks ‘Ladies & Gentlemen’, Grateful Dead’s Immense Influence
The guest list for the Infamous Stringdusters' latest album, Ladies & Gentlemen, is, in a word, awesome. The five-man band was looking to "mix it up and do something different," banjo player Chris Pandolfi tells The Boot -- and what they got is a project featuring 12 of the key women in folk, bluegrass and Americana.
The concept -- a Stringdusters record, but featuring female vocalists (or, in the case of Ladies & Gentlemen's final song, a female trumpet player) -- "had been percolating for a while," Pandolfi notes, and when it came time to make a new album, they finally decided to "pull the trigger." As the band -- dobro player Andy Hall, guitarist Andy Falco, fiddle player Jeremy Garrett, double bassist Travis Book and Pandolfi -- wrote for the record, they thought about who they'd want to guest on each song, but there were no guarantees. As luck would have it, however, Lee Ann Womack, Sara Watkins, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Aofie O’Donovan, Joss Stone, Abigail Washburn, Sarah Jarosz, Joan Osborne, Celia Woodsmith, Nicki Bluhm, Claire Lynch and Jen Hartswick all said yes, and the Stringdusters found the perfect material for each of them.
"They've all got a song that fits their vibe," Pandolfi says, "and I think that's one of the cool successes of the album: It takes advantage of the things they do well, mixes them with this certain songwriting vibe we're going for and hopefully elevates the music to something that we might not necessarily have been able to achieve ourselves."
Scoring studio time with Stone was particularly exciting, Pandolfi admits. She sings on Ladies & Gentlemen's fourth track, "Have a Little Faith."
"She's just so incredible ... she's had a really cool career," he explains. "... She just always does what she wants, and that's bada--."
The Infamous Stringdusters are currently in the midst of a spring tour that will soon take them to two-night stands at New York City's Bowery Ballroom and Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club -- "legendary spots," Pandolfi calls them -- as well as to a show at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
"... and that's just, like, 'dreams come true' material," Pandolfi adds.
The Stringdusters' live shows are lengthy affairs, and their setlists change every night; assembling them is a job that Pandolfi calls "a challenge" and "time consuming" but also "really cool." The band relishes the opportunity to jam together and take their music to places it doesn't necessarily go on their albums, and recordings of shows are available for purchase via the band's official website -- choices pulled straight from the Grateful Dead's playbook.
"They've become that band that, in one way or another, they've just somehow permeated every corner of the music world," Pandolfi says of the Dead (some of whom the Stringdusters now call friends). "... Their style not only musically, but also the business and the community of fans and the whole grassroots growth vibe, we've drawn from all of those things."
Ladies & Gentlemen is available for download via iTunes.
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