You have to hand it to a band like the Infamous Stringdusters and their ability to find a seemingly effortless accommodation between the traditional trappings of bluegrass and a clear contemporary edge. So while Undercover Vol. 2, their second EP of inspired covers, may seem like a stopgap, especially as it comes on the heels of their last full-length effort, Laws of Gravity, and an ensuing live release, Laws of Gravity LIVE!, it does offer some satisfaction before the arrival of their next record.
Like many of their contemporaries — The Steep Canyon Rangers and Yonder Mountain String Band to name but two — the Stringdusters are well heeled in present circumstances, and their sound is strictly geared to attract the masses in an obvious and overt way. They hold to populist principles that demand instant accessibility and the ability to turn every encounter into a supersized celebration. So while some of these songs may be more familiar than others — a deft instrumental version of the Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” and an unlikely take on “What’s Going On” in particular — even the tracks that veer toward the more obscure work refreshingly well. Imagine the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” plucked out on banjo, My Morning Jacket’s “Golden” given a rarified kind of sheen, or Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” finding common cause that unites bluegrass with bravado, and you get some idea of the band’s verve and versatility.
Granted, Undercover Vol. 2 doesn’t exactly point the way forward, but it sure as hell clarifies the elements that came before.