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Billy Strings & Terry Barber, 'Long Journey Home'

Bluegrass is music that's passed from hand to hand, from kitchens to hotel rooms to the jovial, competitive song circles at music festivals. For a century in these settings, young upstarts have attentively followed the fingerwork of their older mentors, learning classic tunes by touch as they memorize lyrics by jumping in on a high harmony.

Years before he first became a prodigy and then a hitmaking ambassador filling stadiums with bold takes on the tradition, Billy Strings began his bluegrass homeschooling under the tutelage of his father Terry Barber. He'd always wanted to make an album with Barber, who raised Strings as his own after his biological father died, and now the pair's exuberant interplay can be heard on the forthcoming Me/And/Dad, out Nov. 18.

The duo recently released two tracks — the George Jones weeper "Life to Go," with Barber on lead vocals, and this crackling version of the bluegrass chestnut "Long Journey Home." One of the first songs recorded by Bill Monroe (with his older brother Charlie, in a blistering 1936), it's a bridge between Black American blues and country that also presages the Everly Brothers' close-harmony rock and roll. Countless artists have had their way with this tune — including Strings himself, in his early duo with mandolinist Don Julin. He and Barber's take comes in hot, a match made tender by the familiar harmonies of these two lifelong picking partners.

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Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.
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