The origin of their name remains shrouded in mystery: obviously, the members of the 23 String Band play more strings than that onstage. But the type of music they play is unmistakable. They describe it as “Original Hillbilly.” Which would be true, if the original hillbillies had listened to Paganini and the Beastie Boys.

“Bluegrass Unlimited” describes their style as “old-time music that offers up a new twist.” The material on their eponymous debut album covers familiar territory for traditionalists: from the melancholy “St. James Infirmary” to the toe-tappers “Cluck Old Hen” and “Don't Let Your Deal Go Down.” But you can tell from the get-go that the five young guys from the Louisville, Kentucky, area have a mixture of classical training and church-revival upbringings.

Violinist Scott Moore, for example (not to be confused with Elvis's guitarist Scotty), started playing at the age of four and writing music at age six. He's played Carnegie Hall and held solo seats with classical orchestras. Bassist T. Martin Stam holds two degrees in music performance, and has studied at the feet of Yo-Yo Ma and Wynton Marsalis. Banjo player Curtis Wilson, on the other hand, emulates the style of his grandmother's next-door neighbor Dave “String Bean” Akemon.

Mix it all together, and the result is described by one reviewer as “A hard-driving, leg-shaking, new kind of old-timey.” As this moment, the 23 String Band is in the studio putting the finishing touches on their new album, “Catch 23,” which will include new original songs along with the remade classics.

And though the recording process can be stressful, Scott Moore says he's always felt at home there: “When I was a little kid, I'd get the Casio tape recorder out and record myself playing music, or talking, or whatever. Over the years I've been able to do a lot of session work, and I always find that really exciting.”

But even the best of albums can never quite capture a band's onstage persona, and the 23 String Band is no exception. One reviewer calls their outdoor stage shows “electrifying”; another says “Their vocals are as tight as the cork in a jug of moonshine, and their high-powered music kept the crowd dancing well into the night.”

(Next in this series: How the heck DID they get their name, anyway?)

--Dale Short,

See a sample of what's in store from The 23 String Band this summer at Beartrap: