The SteelDrivers – “Blue Side of the Mountain”
Songwriters: 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.
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