Rounder will release the Steep Canyon Rangers' Tell The Ones I Love, the follow-up to 2012's Grammy-winning Nobody Knows You.
This album was somewhat of a departure for the band: when the time came to record, they headed north to Levon Helm's famed studio in Woodstock, NY, with Grammy-winning producer Larry Campbell.
Their association with Campbell came about after the band played Levon's Midnight Ramble last year. They impressed Helm enough that he invited them to come back and record at the barn. Unfortunately, that didn't happen before his untimely passing, but they still felt his joyful, creative spark and subtle influence while working in his studio.
The band wanted Tell The Ones I Love to reflect the spirit of their concerts-an original, freewheeling, high-energy approach to bluegrass that rests mainly on the songwriting of Graham Sharp and Charles Humphrey. They recorded the album almost entirely live, using few overdubs.
While the Steep Canyon Rangers were certainly open to recording songs by other composers, or to dip into traditional material, Campbell ultimately had them record all original tunes, based both on the strength of the songs and the band's arrangements.
Campbell, a highly sought after musician and producer (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm), was often down on the floor with the band so he could feel what was being performed. His strategy, to have the music sound organic - "where you can hear the environment of the barn" - fit well with the band's performances. He also admired that they "held on to the essence of what makes bluegrass viable, and subtly reinvented it to make their thing unique."
One way that the band stretched bluegrass boundaries was with their use of drums and percussion on Tell The Ones I Love. "We didn't want something that was just a bluegrass track with drums laid on it like an afterthought," said Sharp. "We wanted something that was really integrated." They enlisted Jeff Sipe ( Leftover Salmon, Susan Tedeschi, Aquarium Rescue Unit), whom Sharp described as "one of the best drummers around."
Tell The Ones I Love showcases the Steep Canyon Rangers' myriad talents- nimble instrumental agility, tight harmony vocals, and inventive songwriting. The 12-song set ranges from full-band workouts like the title track to the haunting, vocally tight "Hunger." On "Las Vegas," the band displays jazzy touches while Mike Guggino's instrumental "Graveyard Fields" is a bluegrass tour de force.
Tell The Ones I Love, in fact, affords each Ranger opportunities to shine, whether it's Graham Sharp's expressive banjo intro on Charles Humphrey/Jonathan Byrd's plaintive "Bluer Words Were Never Spoken," Nicky Sanders' soaring fiddle on "Boomtown" or Humphrey's walking bass that anchors his "Mendocino County Blue."
These days, it's hard to talk about the Steep Canyon Rangers without mentioning Steve Martin. After meeting at a party and clicking immediately, Martin invited the band to tour and record with him. 2011's collaboration Rare Bird Alert was nominated for a Grammy, and later that year, they won IBMA's Entertainer of the Year Award. They average about 50 dates a year together, touring as Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, and most recently with the addition of special guest Edie Brickell.
The release of Tell the Ones I Love finds the Steep Canyon Rangers in a unique situation, and one they don't take lightly: "It took a lot of work for us to nose our way into the bluegrass world and become a de facto representative," Sharp acknowledges, "and we think it's a real responsibility." With this new record, "we can be a bridge between the bluegrass crowd and a wider audience that may not be die-hard bluegrass fans." Yet.