Naturally glistening and riddled with a lot of spunk in all the right places, there’s no competing with the provocative textures that the strings add to Billy Droze’s new album Renaissance. From the reserved strut of “When the Time Comes” to the countrified glare of “Shadows in the Room,” swinging groove of “That’d Be You (feat. Tommy Emanuel),” exotic slither of “All Is Well” and divine sway of “Angels Watching over Me,” Droze has never sounded as on-point as he does in Renaissance, and a big reason for his swaggering presence is the splendidly colorful backdrop the string parts create from the beginning of the tracklist all the way through to the very end. They’re at the heart and soul of this record, and at times explain a narrative better than mere linguistics ever could.
As seductive as the instrumentation is in Renaissance, Billy Droze’s lead vocal packs one heck of a punch in plenty of instances (and specifically in “Shackled and Bound,” “If It Wasn’t for a Song” and “Till I Get Home,” each of which could qualify as being structurally verse-driven). He steps up to the mic with a lot of confidence, and even amidst dazzling displays of virtuosity in tracks like “Coal Fed Train” and the hypnotic “Chain Gang,” his voice never sounds like a backburner component of his sound at all. Droze is spreading the love around all twelve of the songs on this record, and though I had a lot of big expectations coming into this review, I was pleased to find the fascinating smorgasbord of tones and textures in this LP’s biggest moments as focused and vibrant as I’d hoped they would be.
I wasn’t all that crazy about the style of the mix in “Free Again (feat. Shenandoah)” and “She Broke My Heart in Spanish,” but a few exceptionally mild quibbles with the strings’ EQ aside, they’re as strong a pair of songs as any you’ll hear on Renaissance. There’s no filler for us to skip through here, and despite the conceptual design of the rhythm in a few of the album’s midsection hits (including “When the Time Comes” and the aforementioned “Angels Watching over Me” and “She Broke My Heart in Spanish”), this tracklist enjoys a fluidity that has unfortunately become rather hard to find in the mainstream as of late.
Billy Droze has done it again with the results of his latest trip to the recording studio, and if you ask me, I think that Renaissance is absolutely the most diversely-appointed record to see widespread release in his career thus far. He’s come a long way in the last few years especially, and though he’s set the bar pretty high for himself in the past, he’s shown himself to be capable of raising it time and time again with the release of this stately new LP. While it isn’t the most groundbreaking record I’ve heard out of the bluegrass genre this year, Renaissance gives us a fun listening experience that could appeal to the country crowd just as much as it would the diehard bluegrass aficionado, and that’s something Droze should be really proud of as a songwriter.