april 2008


Coming on the heels of Rhonda Vincent’s exhilarating Good Thing Going, the Steeldrivers’ surprising debut made January a banner month for bluegrass. Each member of this quintet has a sterling resume, with recording credits ranging across the board from Al Green to Trisha Yearwood, but the names most familiar to the general public will be mandolinist/vocalist Mike Henderson, who has cut several impressive solo albums, and the stalwart fiddler Tammy Rogers. However, it’s the rough-edged, gospel fervor of vocalist Chris Stapleton that lifts the band to stirring heights. Heretofore known mainly for writing Josh Turner’s memorable “Your Man,” Stapleton is the author here of several jaw dropping lead vocals that add layers of emotional depth to the band’s strong original material. He asserts himself with authority from the outset, attacking “Blue Side of the Mountain” with a wailing, blues cry over a forcefully strummed acoustic guitar, while Rogers adds haunting harmony as the rest of the band explores the dark edges of the Appalachian-styled lament. Sounding uncannily like Travis Tritt at times, Stapleton only gets better from there, as do his compadres. Among the wealth of high points is a blues-drenched dirge, “Midnight Tears”; a high-spirited outlaw love ballad, “To Be With You Again”; a blue-eyed country soul shuffle, “Heaven Sent” (with Rogers adding a velvety vocal harmony and a heart tugging fiddle solo to boot); “If You Can’t Be Good, Be Gone,” a two-and-a-half-minute barnburner of a bluegrass kissoff number complete with earnest vocal harmonizing from Stapleton and Rogers as well as electrifying banjo and fiddle solos emerging from the ensemble fury; and a gospel rooted, backwoods tearjerker, “If It Hadn’t Been For Love.” The wow factor for this album is off the scales, whetting the appetite for more—much more.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
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E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
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