07 OCT 13 DAVID SHANNON
The Steep Canyon Rangers get around. They've recorded three albums for Rounder Records, the latest being Tell The Ones I Love. Before that, the band released six records, one of which -- Nobody Knows You, also on Rounder -- won a Grammy in 2013. Their collaboration with Steve Martin (Rare Bird Alert, another Rounder release) received a Grammy nomination in 2012.
Tell The Ones I Love is a far-reaching affair that contains soulful vocals; warm, vibrant strings (banjo, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, and bass); and great songwriting that updates the bluegrass sound for the modern era (featuring drums on some of the tracks) while staying rooted in the traditions of the form. The album was partially recorded live at the Midnight Ramble studio of the late, great Levon Helm, which the band feels was significant to the album's rawer-than-usual sound.
The title track is a doozy, kicking off with a catchy, staccato mandolin vamp that becomes the riff over which guitarist Woody Platt sings of last chances, one-way trains, and dry rivers. As the rest of the band picks up the vocal harmony the song is lifted from its bleak lyrical content to a rousing celebration of new beginnings and shedding the weight of the past. This and the rest of the two-disc, 12-song set of bluegrass burners should help position the band as a new standard-bearer for a venerated style of music.
The band makes a stop in my home town with Martin and cohort Edie Brickell this month, and if my luck holds the show will feature a few cuts from their newest release.
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