In their 15-year career, The SteelDrivers have forged a vital, unique voice in the sometimes predictable world of bluegrass. Starting from their early days with superstar songwriter and lead singer Chris Stapleton, the band has successfully merged a stubborn streak of Southern roots rock into the traditional bluegrass sound to create a darker, edgier sound all their own.
Their latest release, Bad For You, features a new lead singer and guitarist straight from the rock-and-roll world, Kelvin Damrell, who readily admits not having much of a background in bluegrass. But when exposed to more modern bands and experiencing the virtuosity and power that drives modern bluegrass, Damrell became an instant convert. With founding members Tammy Rogers and Brent Truitt on board, The SteelDrivers have found new life and vibrancy.
This is muscular, blues-rock based bluegrass that blends those influences better than perhaps any band since New Grass Revival. The band’s challenge, much like Blue Highway and other long-time established bands, is to remain true to their core sound without getting stale or repetitive.
No problems here, as Bad For You kicks off with a powerhouse bluegrass sound featuring wonderful interplay between Truitt’s mandolin and Richard Bailey’s fire-pit-hot banjo. Over 11 songs, all originals written or co-written by Rogers, The SteelDrivers demonstrate the power and emotion that has always made their music compelling. It’s a testament to their musical gifts that they cover styles from Louisiana Zydeco to Route 61 Mississippi gut-bucket blues to ancient-toned fiddle from The Highlands with such aplomb. Moving from more conventional bluegrass beats to a punchy, danceable Cajun beat on “Glad I’m Gone,” the band shows its flexibility and originality, complete with a cool duo between Bailey and Damrell’s rock-tinged guitar flatpicking. The always definitive Rogers saws off a killer fiddle solo on “Mama Says No.”
This release is a bases-loaded home run. Bluegrass evolves and thrives when bands take a stand and develop their own trademark sound. Bad For You keeps The SteelDrivers fresh, relevant, and exciting as always. (www.rounder.com)DJM