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Not your grandaddy's bluegrass

The Infamous Stringdusters are back together after a six-week hiatus from live shows and are eager to put new ideas and music together for their Northwest tour.

"We're chompin' at the bit," says Travis Book, who plays upright bass for the group. "We're in one of our collaborative, creative phases."

Book, along with guitarist Andy Falco, Andy Hall on dobro, Chris Pandolfi on banjo, Jesse Cobb on mandolin and fiddler Jeremy Garrett, finds that creating music with a band happens in a natural, organic way.

"Our live shows sound different each time we perform," he says. "Everyone in the band is a great player, and each of us listens to what each other is doing."

The Stringdusters' live shows also are inspired by the general vibe of the venue and the audience, says Book.

"From what we've seen of the Northwest, we're always in a comfortable place," says Book.

The band arrived in Seattle Monday night to videotape a tour documentary. It will be in Portland Friday and Saturday for the River City Music Festival, then perform Sunday, Jan. 9, at CultureWorks in Ashland.

The band formed five years ago while its members worked as session musicians in Nashville, Tenn.

"We were on that collective scene," says Book. "But now that we're touring so much, we're really not part of it. Plus they're not making a lot records."

The Stringdusters' third album, "Things That Fly," was recorded at Haunted Hollow, a studio in the countryside near Charlottesville, Va. It was released in April on the Sugar Hill label.

Book says he thinks "Things That Fly" is the band's best work yet. Other albums include "The Infamous Stringdusters" in 2008 and "Fork in the Road" in 2007, also on Sugar Hill. The 2007 debut album hit hard, winning the International Bluegrass Music Association's Album, Song and Emerging Artist of the Year awards.

"Our last album has held up well over the last year," says Book. "I still enjoy listening to it."

All members of The Stringdusters contributed to the songs on "Things That Fly." The CD opens with a cover of U2's "In God's Country," and one of its tunes, "Magic No. 9," earned the group its first Grammy nomination for Best Country Instrumental Performance.

"The music is completely concep-tualized," says Book. "There are some musical statements that feel like we're getting further away from the art of imitation. Most bluegrass is traditional, and there is a huge audience that wants it to sound like something familiar.

"There also are a lot of bands that are exploring new ground, as we always have. The new album feels as though we've settled on an original sound. Like we've collectively found our groove and musical identity."

The band made an appearance on NPR's "Mountain Stage" in December, interviewing backstage with host Larry Groce. See it at www.npr.org/series/mountain-stage.

Book says the last six weeks has been the longest time the band members have been separated since they formed The Stringdusters.

"It's been good to have some space," he says. "We're in a very creative mode right now. We should have some really fun stuff together by the time we get to Ashland."

The Infamous Stringdusters tours the Northwest behind its third album, 'Things That Fly,' on Sugar Hill Records. - Photo by Johnny St. Ours