We're really excited to be here, New Orleans," Andy Falco says with obvious sarcasm. "And we'd like to thank our sponsor: BP."
Over the phone, Falco, the green-minded guitarist of The Infamous Stringdusters, has a voice raspy from the night before. The Grammy-nominated bluegrass act, which released Let It Go April 1, will arrive in New Orleans at the conclusion of an exhausting cross-country tour. The animated Falco doesn't need to clarify that the Stringdusters' local appearances don't come courtesy of the oil company.
"I can only speak for ourselves," Falco says of he and bandmates Andy Hall (Dobro), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle), Chris Pandolfi (banjo) and Travis Book (upright bass), "but it is important for us to align ourselves with like-minded people in order for them to be genuine relationships. The [sponsors] we tour with are all a part of who we are; it's a reciprocal thing. It's a natural relationship; it's not forced, like with, say, Exxon Mobil."
The Stringdusters' debut at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival concludes a tour in which they contributed $1 from every ticket to the Conservation Alliance, a collective of outdoor companies that supports grassroots environmental organizations. "The Conservation Alliance is a perfect example of what we believe in," says Falco, noting the quintet's love of outdoor recreation and respect for nature.
As with the Conservation Alliance, the band found harmony last fall while recording Let It Go in the bluegrass cradle of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia at White Star Sound, a state-of-the-art studio in a converted historic farmhouse. White Star Sound is the brainchild of owner Chris Keup, a songwriter who was an apprentice to legendary producer Lionel Conway (The Beatles, Tom Waits) before handling projects for major-label heavyweights Warner Bros. and Atlantic. Keup's artist-driven model for recording, publishing and producing music has drawn talent such as the Stringdusters to the White Star, which he built with current engineer Stewart Myers, a bassist (Agents of Good Roots) whose work Falco cites as crucial to crafting the eight-year-old band's "most cohesive, uniquely Stringdusters" album to date.
"Being out in this killer spot in the Virginia countryside and [the band] living in the studio for several days of nonstop work, we were able to become totally saturated in the recording process," Falco says.
"This album is to me by far our most accessible album," Falco says. "[Our] writing has come a long way. It's the first one we've done with 100 percent original material; it's the first one we've self-produced."
It's the fifth title on their own label, High Country Recordings. Appreciated for its straight-ahead bluegrass sound, distinguished by chemistry that allows for improvised valleys and peaks, Let It Go deftly moves from the band's gritty, organic tone — the 2011 Grammy Award nomination came in the now-defunct Best Country Instrumental category — toward a warm and buoyant pop sound. The album is highlighted by Garrett's frenetic-yet-nuanced fiddle work and by soaring vocal harmonies, as on "Summercamp," which is as sweet and innocent as a love song can be.
Pop or not, Let It Go grooves with an intensity boiling just beneath the surface, a signature Stringduster feature.
"Being genuine — that's always the best way to go," Falco says. "That's what will attract the right people to you; that's what will make the right things happen for you."