The Steeldrivers- The Steeldrivers   Leave a comment

The SteelDrivers

The SteelDrivers



This is bluegrass?


The SteelDrivers are the latest group to shake up the rather staid bluegrass industry. What is different about this band is that most of the members are not recognized for their bluegrass roots. While fiddler and vocalist Tammy Rogers long ago played in Dusty Miller, she and mandolinist Mike Henderson are better known for their work with the Dead Reckoners collective of Kieran Kane and Kevin Welch.


Similarly, vocalist Chris Stapleton, possessor of the growliest, dirtiest bluegrass voice, is more at home with the blues and country. Amongst this bunch, only banjoist Richard Bailey is commonly regarded (until now) as a bluegrasser, although all have played the music in their past.


The bluegrass of The SteelDrivers is not pretty. No, this is the emotionally hardcore bluegrass of Bill Monroe circa 1946, in spirit if not performance. Consider those original Monroe cuts laid down in Chicago in the autumn of  ’46- “Toy Heart,” “Mother’s Only Sleeping,” “Wicked Path of Sin,” and “Will You Be Loving Another Man?” The subject matter is almost exclusively dark and lonesome, even on sacred material. This perspective places The SteelDrivers- for all of their blues and non-traditional influences and approaches- firmly in the pocket of Monroe’s initial vision.


Contrast this with the recent popular, pretty bluegrass releases from Dailey & Vincent and Rhonda Vincent which are glossy- if enjoyable- replicas of Monroe’s music, lacking the grit and passion found on the eponymous SteelDrivers’ debut album.


In the SteelDrivers songs there are girls left behind in Kentucky, and wind blowing through pine trees while the wood smoke rises, but the protagonists aren’t hanging onto fading remembrances. They are drinking dark whiskey, listening to the sound of the willows and shedding some midnight tears after issuing ultimatums such as, “If you can’t be good, be gone.” Not much forgiveness within these songs, almost all written by Stapleton and Henderson.


This is bluegrass, indeed!


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