Album Review: The SteelDrivers – Reckless

Sam Gazdziak | September 20th, 2010

The SteelDrivers - RecklessAmong 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.

4.5 Stars

  1. Jon
    September 20, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    Actually, the band’s debut – as in, first album released – didn’t make much of a splash, as it was just sold at personal appearances. For “debut” above, substitute “Rounder Records debut.” I believe that you can probably still pick up a copy of the real debut if you stop by the Station Inn, where it was recorded.

    Otherwise, nice review ;-).

  2. Brady Vercher
    September 20, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Interesting about the independent debut; too bad I’m not in Nashville to grab a copy. I’ve probably played this album more than any other this year.

  3. Razor X
    September 20, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    I’ve only had a chance to play this all the way through just once, but I liked it a lot.

  4. Leeann Ward
    September 20, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    I’m with Brady on both counts. I love this album.

  5. Doug Gilliland
    September 20, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Hi Brady,

    I’m in Nashville – not too far from the Station Inn. Do you want me to pick you up a copy? The S’drivers are there this Saturday.

    Doug

  6. Fizz
    September 20, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    This is my kind of bluegrass right here!

  7. Leeann Ward
    September 20, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Doug, Dude, I know you’re offering it to Brady, but if you’re willing to do it for me, please email me at
    leeann@countryuniverse.net.

    I would be forever in your debt.

  8. Barry Mazor
    September 20, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    If you like this one, you’ll like the earlier Rounder CD, too. I certainly did, and have enjoyed this very original band live a number of times..It’s like the “Southern blues Band meets bluegrass band” Travis Tritt almost invented first!

  9. Sam G.
    September 20, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Good to know about the Steeldrivers’ debut debut album, but I really with I’d known when I was in Nashville this past summer. Well, now I have a reason to go back to The Station Inn.

  10. Sam G.
    September 20, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Er, wish, not with.

  11. Dan Milliken
    September 20, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    This is all too enticing. I may have to go to the Station Inn this weekend, too.

  12. Rick
    September 20, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Well since Chris Stapleton was a primary songwriter on this album, it stands to reason that future Steeldriver’s albums are bound to sound quite different unless Chris keeps writing songs for them independently. Gary Nichols has a decent voice and growl but lacks the power of Stapleton’s set of pipes. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gary blows out his vocal chords trying to mimic Chris.

    Although National brand resonator guitars sound cool (they are a California based company by the way), its their resonator mandolins that really kick butt as they project so well! Mandolin purists may scoff at such a thing, but it sure makes it easier to hear every note clearly (and with my hearing issues that really matters).

  13. Jon
    September 20, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Well since Chris Stapleton was a primary songwriter on this album, it stands to reason that future Steeldriver’s albums are bound to sound quite different

    What, Mike Henderson is chopped liver? I don’t think so…

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