Adam Steffey’s latest is more Boxcars than his last recording. That recording, Future Primitive, explored the boundaries of old-time and bluegrass, using predominantly traditional fiddle tunes. This recording returns him to a more conventional release. It needs to be said, however, so as not to mislead, that the sound of this recording is not that of a Boxcars album. Only fiddler Ron Stewart joins Steffey for this project. The rest of the members include bassist Barry Bales, banjoist Jason Davis, and guitarist Aaron Ramsey. Tim Surrett joins on harmony vocals, and Steffey’s wife, Tina, contributes a track of clawhammer banjo. The resulting sound is different from The Boxcars, but certainly more in line with their blend of contemporary and traditional styles than the updated old-time sound of Future Primitive.
Only two tracks here recall Future Primitive. “Hell Among The Yearlings,” featuring just mandolin and clawhammer, and, to a lesser extent, the closing instrumental arrangement of “Come Thou Fount,” on which Steffey’s mandolin weaves with what sounds like a mandocello. Both are welcome tracks.
Beyond those can be found a mix of straight bluegrass, Western Swing, country, and contemporary songwriting. The best include the excellent cover of “Dear John,” followed by the unmistakable songwriting sound of Eric Gibson’s light and tuneful “The Space I’m In.” Steffey’s baritone is well-suited to both, playfully sly on the former, pensive on the latter. He follows those with an original instrumental, “Pitching Wedge,” chock-full of unexpected register shifts and twists of melody. The country swing/shuffle of “Town That Never Sleeps” is perfect for Steffey’s vocals. Later comes a cover of Wills and Duncan’s instrumental version of “Little Liza Jane” and a song of a sentiment most of us can understand, “Cloudy Days.”
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which way Steffey takes his music. The result is the same. Very good music. (Crossroads Distribution, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.mountainhomemusiccompany.com.)BW