The Steeldrivers,
(Rounder, 2010)

When a group of Nashville's finest and most prominent musicians get together to form a bluegrass band, you can bet the farm the result is going to be worth hearing. And that's certainly the case with the Steeldrivers.

Let me throw out a few names here and you tell me what they have in common: the Dixie Chicks, Patty Loveless, Rodney Crowell, Buddy & Julie Miller, Albert King, John Hiatt, Mark Knopfler, Bo Diddley, Sting and Johnny Cash. The answer: members of the Steeldrivers have played on all of their records. Clearly this is an experienced bunch of session musicians. In addition, between them, they have about a dozen solo albums as leaders.

You might not know all the names but you've heard their music.

Now, with the Steeldrivers, you get a chance to associate the name with the music, and you'd be foolish not to take that chance. Reckless is not only a first-rate bluegrass album, it also points out the direction that bluegrass music has to go in if it wants to remain a power, instead of just a fringe music. The Steeldrivers, while true to the tradition, extend it, bringing a modern sound to it, one that incorporates aspects of rock, soul and country. Not since the emergence of Newgrass Revival has the music been this energized, this fresh and innovative.

One thing that makes the Steeldrivers' sound so unique is the lead singing of Chris Stapleton. He doesn't come from the high lonesome tradition of Lester Flatt or Del McCoury. Stapleton has a rock 'n' soul voice, one with depth and resonation that makes traditional music sound brand new.

The rest of the band is equally at home with both old and new approaches. Fiddle-player extraordinaire Tammy Rogers was trained in classical violin while playing in the family bluegrass band, so she's at home with all aspects of the music and brings a freshness to her playing which makes it just soar. Guitar hero Mike Henderson plays mandolin in this band and lays down a rhythm so solid that the foundation never wavers.

In fact, for the first part of the album, you'll wonder if what these guys are playing is really bluegrass. The first half-dozen songs explore new possibilities and then, with what would be side two on a vinyl album, they move toward a more traditional approach. Whatever they are doing, the result is virtuoso performances.

Here's the bottom line: there's no better bluegrass band out there.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

4 September 2010

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