My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: The SteelDrivers – ‘Reckless’

A few years ago I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to a group like The SteelDrivers. Though I’ve always liked bluegrass, it was always a change-of-pace type of music for me, and I was more inclined to listen to more traditional acts like Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, or Ricky Skaggs. Gravelly, bluesy vocalists like Chris Stapleton have never really been my cup of tea; yet to my great surprise, I was blown away the first time I heard The SteelDrivers, whose 2008 debut album was among that year’s best offerings. At times, lead vocalist Stapleton sounds more like a Delta blues singer than the lead vocalist for a bluegrass band. Yet somehow at works. It may be partially a reflection of my own evolving musical tastes, but mostly it is a testament to the fine musicianship of the other band members. This group is no Lonestar, consisting of a powerhouse lead vocalist backed with anonymous, interchangeable musicians, and for that reason I have every confidence that The SteelDrivers will continue to flourish after the departure of Chris Stapleton, who recently quit the group to focus on his family and songwriting.

Reckless
, the group’s sophomore offering, picks up where their eponymous debut album left off. There are no radical departures from the first album, though the group continues to push the boundaries by melding aspects from other musical genres with bluegrass. Though it may raise some eyebrows among bluegrass purists, the result is a refreshing change from the usual pop/soft rock that Nashville has been pedaling in recent years. The album was produced by Luke Wooten, and eleven of the album’s twelve tracks were written by either Chris Stapleton or mandolinist Michael Henderson.

The album opens with the energetic, fiddle-driven “The Reckless Side of Me”, which includes Tammy Rogers’ beautiful harmony vocals. Next is “Good Corn Liquor”, the only song on the album provided by an outside songwriter (Ronnie Bowman), which is slightly reminiscent of “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey” from the band’s first disc. “Good Corn Liquor” is followed by some non-traditional tracks like “Where Rainbows Never Die”, “The Price” and the Civil War-themed “Can You Run” which sound a bit like attempts to “grass up” songs that might not have necessarily been conceived as bluegrass songs.

Things take a more traditional turn beginning with “You Put The Hurt On Me”, the album’s best track and the one that comes the closest to mainstream country. If promoting The SteelDrivers to mainstream country radio weren’t an exercise in complete futility, this is the track I would select to become a single. The high lonesome sound returns with the excellent “Midnight On The Mountain” and “Guitars, Whiskey, Guns and Knives” before detouring back into contemporary territory with “Angel Of The Night”.

Patty Loveless fans will be familiar with “Higher Than The Wall,” which appeared on her 2003 disc On Your Way Home. A live version was also included on The SteelDrivers’ previous album as an iTunes bonus track. For that reason alone, I was slightly disappointed to see it reprised here. It’s an excellent song, brilliantly performed, but it’s taking up a slot that could have gone to a different song that most of us hadn’t heard before.

Overall, Reckless isn’t quite as good as its predecessor, but I’ve grown to like it more each time I listen to it. Fans of the first SteelDrivers album won’t be disappointed, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to even those who don’t normally listen to bluegrass. It bends the rules just enough that it should appeal to the non-bluegrass listener, who might be pleasantly surprised after giving the album a try.

Grade: A

Reckless
is available from vendors such as Amazon and iTunes.

3 responses to “Album Review: The SteelDrivers – ‘Reckless’

  1. Occasional Hope October 6, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    I definitely prefer their first album.

  2. Leeann October 6, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    I completely agree with this review. It’s not quite as strong as the first, but I still think it’s very good and it’s been growing on me as well.

  3. Jeff October 10, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Maybe it’s just me but I love Ghosts of Mississippi. Didn’t even get a mention on your review!

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