The SteelDrivers – “Blue Side of the Mountain”

Juli Thanki | January 20th, 2009

The SteelDrivers - Blue Side of the MountainSongwriters: Chris Stapleton and James Michael Henderson.

They may have just burst onto the bluegrass scene in 2008, but the SteelDrivers have decades of music experience between them–separately, they’ve recorded with everyone from Al Green to Patty Loveless. Together, however, the SteelDrivers are far more than the sum of their individual talents, as they prove on their Grammy nominated single “Blue Side of the Mountain.”

Fans of pure, high lonesome tenors from the likes of Bill Monroe and Del McCoury may find themselves cringing at frontman Chris Stapleton’s voice, which sounds as though he starts his day with a hearty bowl of Gravel-O’s and a whiskey chaser. And even though Stapleton’s hit, radio-friendly songwriting—he’s written chartburners for Kenny Chesney, Josh Turner, and numerous others— may cost him some credibility with bluegrass purists, make no mistake: this is genuine.

Like some other singles we’ve reviewed at The 9513, “Blue Side of the Mountain” focuses on the struggle for inner peace and a sense of safety in a troubled world. Unlike Trent Tomlinson’s recent single “That’s How It Still Oughta Be,” however, “Blue Side of the Mountain” doesn’t lump Americans together under shaky umbrella terms like “we” or “us” while vaguely referring to an unknown time or place. When Stapleton howls “I’m going back to a world of shadow/Gotta find some peace ‘fore I lose my mind/On the blue side of the mountain/Where the sun don’t ever shine,” it’s impossible not to identify with him–something that Tomlinson’s track is lacking.

Fiddler Tammy Rogers chimes in with sweet harmony vocals, providing a startling contrast to Stapleton’s rasp. The arrangement is raw yet skilful, and most importantly it’s from the heart, making the song not only one of 2008′s strongest country/bluegrass/roots tracks, but a lesson to be learned by those inclined to overproduce.

The Grammy nod for “Blue Side of the Mountain” in Best Country Performance By a Duo or Group is a deserved nomination, certainly, but the fact that their competition includes award-magnets Brooks and Dunn as well as commercial favorite Sugarland puts the SteelDrivers squarely in the role of dark horse. We’ll have to see if substance can overcome style come Grammy night.

Thumbs Up

Listen: The SteelDrivers – “Blue Side of the Mountain”

  1. Cynthia
    January 21, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Great song! about the songwriting credit listed though—-aren’t the songwriters Stapleton and Mike Henderson—not James Henderson? Just wondering…

  2. Jim Malec
    January 21, 2009 at 9:31 am

    Cynthia–I just updated the writers’ credits to reflect the name on the ASCAP clearance.

  3. Rick
    January 21, 2009 at 11:17 am

    This is a fine song and I hope it does win the Grammy over the mass market commercial competition. The Grammy voters have been enthralled with Alison Krauss for many years, so I hope that somehow this affection gets transferred to the SteelDrivers as well.

    The Grammy winners in country music related categories are typically a far more interesting (and deserving) group of songs and artists than you’ll ever get from the mainstream shills at the CMA, ACM, or CMT awards.

  4. JD
    January 21, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Was never a real big bluegrass fan, though I could always appreciate the musicianship of the genre. The SteelDrivers take it to a whole new level for me. This guy sings like he’s got a pair and the writing kills. That’s where the difference lies for me. Definitely my CD of the year! Absolutely can’t wait for the sophmore effort.

  5. Juli
    January 21, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    JD, you might also want to check out the Pine Box Boys. Same “got a pair” vocals, and the songs are all murderiffic. “Arkansas Killing Time” is probably their best record (“I Kept Her Heart” on the myspace page is from that album). http://www.myspace.com/pineboxboys

  6. Jaime
    January 21, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    Outstanding song. This group sounds like Alison Krauss + Union Station’s cousins from Appalachia. :)

  7. scooter
    January 21, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    I like bluegrass but I tend to get tired of it if I listen to much of it. I agree with the other posts that its that guys booming voice that sets them apart.

  8. Chris
    January 22, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    This is a great track off of what I consider last year’s finest album. They deserve the Grammy!

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