By The Steeldrivers
Teri Ann McLean
Once every year, maybe as rare as every two years, I
come across an album that doesn’t leave my player for a month or two.
Sometimes the album is so addicting that it actually gets played several
hours a day, back to back with no break in between…. the only
discontinuity being that maybe I’ll play “just” my favorite songs a few
more times before starting the entire album over.
This year the album that I absolutely cannot get enough
of is the Steel Drivers self-titled debut album. At first listen, if you
are of the “old-school” traditional bluegrass vein, you may respond, “This
ain’t bluegrass!” or, as Bill Monroe might say, “This ain’t no part of
nothin’!”… and traditional bluegrass, it ain’t. But its connections to
traditional bluegrass cannot be missed nor understated.
These musicians are masters of their instruments, but there is a
soulfulness that is not often found in bluegrass, where the chief
complaint by non-bluegrass listeners is making serious subjects seem trite
with the upbeat nature of the songs no matter the profundity of the topic.
The Steel Drivers are anything but trite.
The power and soul behind Chris Stapleton’s voice is not something you
come across every day in bluegrass music. There is a bluesy grittiness
combined with the knowledge of how to dig deep into the recesses of the
diaphragm to belt out lines that have the capability of making you shiver
from your spine straight down to your knees. He obviously knows when to
hit it hard and when to pull back, a proven master of vocal interpretation
Tammy Rogers’ harmonies provide a beautiful contrast to Stapleton’s
grittiness. The songs range in style and influence from blues to rock to a
hint of country while managing to keep bluegrass as the unifying theme.
“East Kentucky Home,” “If You Can’t Be Good Be Gone,” and “Midnight Tears”
are probably the songs that stick closest to the traditional bluegrass
realm, while the first hit off the album, “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey,” has not
only bluegrass influences in its mandolin chop and banjo style, but
contains hints of blues and rock & roll.
Heaven Sent is a beautiful number that is more country by definition with
just a touch of the blues. Another song with hit potential is “If It
Hadn’t Been for Love,” which has a raw blues feel to it as Stapleton
denounces all the things he wouldn’t have done if it hadn’t been for love,
including the fact he “never woulda loaded up a .44, put myself behind a
There isn’t a single track that is anything less than outstanding, and
this cross-genre album has the potential to not only intrigue but hook
fans that have yet to even give bluegrass a try.
This group has managed to come up with a contemporary
bluegrass sound that remains true to roots music, keeping fans in both
camps very, very happy.
~Teri Ann McLean, September 2008
Host of “Something Borrowed; Something Bluegrass”
The Bluegrass Mix