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Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012

The .357 String Band

Fire & Hail

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The term "punk bluegrass," coined for the Bad Livers and The Meat Purveyors, applies to Milwaukee's now-defunct .357 String Band. Their ferocious recasting of bluegrass lives not only in banjoist/singer Joe Huber's current solo career, but in the LP reissue of their second album, Fire & Hail. Beautifully appointed in a gatefold sleeve, eye-catching typography and red and white vinyl, this limited edition befits the relentless spirit of what's in its grooves.

Huber doesn't merely echo the high lonesome vocals of Bill Monroe but delivers an urbanized, gritty turnaround of that style. The subject matter of romance and personal desolation remains largely unchanged but Huber and company sound far less resolved by the consolation of the Christian life. The tension of embracing and modifying a musical tradition—and scuttling some of its cultural associations—enhanced the power of the .357s' sound. So did the way they brought out bluegrass's Appalachian and Celtic roots and their relation to Eastern European folk, too. Shame the guys have gone their own ways, but their legacy lives on in this finely crafted artifact.