Album Review: The SteelDrivers – Reckless
Among the mix of new, fresh-faced and extremely talented bluegrass groups that have popped up in recent years, The SteelDrivers are a bit of an anomaly. Consisting of music veterans from the country and bluegrass scene with lead vocals more reminiscent of a Southern rock screamer, the band’s debut album made quite a splash, earning IBMA and Grammy award nominations (and placing #45 on The 9513′s top albums of the 2000s). Following up an album with that kind of success is a difficult task, but The Steeldrivers do not disappoint.
The collection of songs on Reckless–mostly written by Chris Stapleton (guitar/vocals) and Mike Henderson (mandolin)–shows more variety than the group’s debut. Stapleton’s powerhouse vocals are used to full effect, and he gets plenty of opportunities to shout and wail, making the self-destructive behavior on the title track and “Guitars, Whiskey, Guns and Knives” sound pretty appealing. However, he really shines on the softer songs like the traditional-sounding “Higher Than The Wall” and especially “Where Rainbows Never Die,” an old man’s lament.
The musicianship is as superlative as ever (along with Stapleton and Henderson, there’s Tammy Rogers on fiddle, Richard Bailey on banjo and Mike Fleming on bass), and a new element is Henderson’s National guitar on several tracks. He released a string of excellent country and blues albums when he was part of the Dead Reckoning collective, along with Rogers, Kieran Kane and Kevin Welch, and his guitar work is a welcome addition. Sure, it’s just changing one instrument, but it helps give a new dimension to songs like the moonshine murder tale “Good Corn Liquor” and the closing “Ghosts of Mississippi.”
This album, of course, is Stapleton’s last with the group, as he has since left to focus more on songwriting. The videos available online with new singer Gary Nichols have shown his considerable talents, so fans shouldn’t mourn Stapleton’s departure too much. His voice will be missed, but Reckless demonstrates that The SteelDrivers still have talent to spare.
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