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Country - Released January 1, 2015 | New Rounder

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Grammy Awards
The SteelDrivers are a Nashville-based bluegrass band whose members aren't afraid to highlight the blues and R&B influences in their music, so it makes sense that they'd want to record in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the city that produced some of the greatest soul music of the '60s and '70s, including major hits by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the Staple Singers, and Solomon Burke. Apparently, working under the belief that there is something in the water in Colbert County, the SteelDrivers booked time at NuttHouse Recording Studio in nearby Sheffield, Alabama, and The Muscle Shoals Recordings is the fruit of those sessions. If the title were meant to suggest to fans that this was the SteelDrivers' homage to classic soul music, well, that's not how the finished product plays. Where there's an honestly soulful undertow to songs like "Drinkin' Alone," "Here She Goes," and "Day Before Temptation," The Muscle Shoals Recordings is a straightforward bluegrass set that walks a tightrope between traditional and progressive styles, but doesn't make much effort to break new stylistic ground. Of course, that's criticizing The Muscle Shoals Recordings for what it's not, when what it is happens to be solid and quite satisfying. The five SteelDrivers are outstanding pickers and vocalists who play beautifully, individually and as an ensemble, especially fiddler Tammy Rogers and banjo man Richard Bailey, and they're gifted songwriters who've brought a wealth of fine original material to the table for this album, including "Brother John," "Long Way Down," and "Six Feet Away." They also wisely brought in Jason Isbell to produce and play on a few tracks, and his presence is unobtrusive but a genuine asset. The Muscle Shoals Recordings isn't soul music, but it does happen to be music played with soul, heart, honesty, and skill, which means in its own way it isn't so far from the music that came from 3614 Jackson Highway after all. And if the title suggests a concept that isn't quite there, the music speaks for itself, and what it says is eloquent and deeply pleasing. ~ Mark Deming
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Country - Released January 1, 2008 | New Rounder

The Steel Drivers hail from Nashville, TN and concoct a sound that combines elements of tradition with contemporary flourishes. One might call the group's self-titled debut neo-acoustic. It's a sound that relies on mandolins, fiddles, and guitars, one that skirts bluegrass without being constricted by it. Banjoist Richard Bailey, bassist-vocalist Mike Fleming, mandolinist-vocalist Mike Henderson, fiddler-vocalist Tammy Rogers, and guitarist-lead vocalist Chris Stapleton deliver 11 full-bodied tracks on The Steel Drivers, highlighted by Stapleton's scratchy, Tom Waits meets bluegrass vocals. The fact that Stapleton's vocals serve as the band's calling card will make it easy for the the Steel Drivers to stand out among other neo-acoustic bands. But while the band's "big sound" -- Stapleton's hoarse vocals, the group harmony, and bright production -- really calls attention to itself one track at a time, it can be a bit bombastic song after song. The first three songs, "Blue Side of the Mountain," "Drinkin' Dark Whiskey," and "Midnight Train to Memphis" are like a one-two-three punch of sonic energy. "Midnight Tears" and "If You Can't Be Good, Be Gone" stick closer to bluegrass and offer a slight pause after the first three. But even here, the Steel Drivers' vocal attack along with the crisp production seldom allows the music a chance to breathe. The ballad-paced "Sticks That Made Thunder" is an exception to the rule, a track that winningly shows off the band's softer side. The Steel Drivers are a talented lot, and the sonic blast of many of these songs presented individually will probably take radio listeners by surprise. Taken as a whole, however, The Steel Drivers are stuck in overdrive. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
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Country - Released January 1, 2010 | New Rounder

The Steeldrivers may play traditional bluegrass, but they do it with a style that's informed by outlaw country and rock & roll attitude. Mike Henderson, who plays mandolin, resophonic guitar, and harmonica and also co-writes the majority of the band's original tunes, was one of the founders of the Dead Reckoning label, an alt-country label that released some of the best non-Nashville country albums of the ‘90s. That maverick approach is evident in the sounds the Steeldrivers generate here. The tempos on Reckless are more varied than those on their self-titled debut, but even the slower tracks pack the big emotional punch that bluegrass fans love, the kind of feeling that used to make country music dangerous. Case in point: "Guitars, Whiskey, Guns and Knives," a midtempo romp that manages to celebrate and caution against excess at the same time, with quite a bit of dark humor. Chris Stapleton sings lead with a powerful low tenor that's equal parts country and bluegrass. "Ghosts of Mississippi" takes us down to the crossroads at midnight with Richard Bailey playing haunted bluesy banjo to complement the dark harmonies of Henderson and Stapleton. "Good Corn Liquor" is a brooding tale of moonshine and marginal living. A good man turns to illegal activity to save his family only to die at the hands of an overzealous sheriff. The tune is delivered with a deadpan grace that intensifies its message. On the brighter side there's "Higher Than the Wall," an ode-to-true-love song cast in the mode of a jailhouse song. Fiddler Tammy Rogers joins Henderson and Stapleton on the high harmonies, and while the tempo is measured, the message is uplifting. Rogers' hot fiddling, Bailey's banjo, and Stapleton's vocal add a jubilant sense to "Angel of the Night" that's intensified by the hint of ragtime in the rhythm bassist Mike Fleming lays down. "Where Rainbows Never Die" takes a clear-eyed look at mortality with a spiritual, rather than religious, feel. Henderson's melancholic resonator guitar plays off nicely against the angelic backing harmonies Rogers supplies. ~ j. poet
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Country - Released January 1, 2013 | New Rounder

Booklet
On their third album, the SteelDrivers continue to forge their own unique path in the world of bluegrass/acoustic music. They play music that sounds like bluegrass on the surface, but they usually eschew the high lonesome harmonies of traditional bluegrass for a more mainstream approach that often sounds like hardcore country gone acoustic. New guitarist Gary Nichols' lead vocals owe as much to rock as they do to country and bluegrass, and the subject matter wanders far astray of the usual concerns of bluegrass traditions. Everyone in the band is a seasoned Nashville vet, so while they never sound like they're trying to consciously stretch the limits of bluegrass, they do so just by being themselves. "Wearin' a Hole" is a hardcore country drinkin' song full of heartache and booze, with Richard Bailey's banjo playing what would be a guitar solo on a country track. The harmonic banjo and fiddle hook makes "Burnin' the Woodshed Down" a standout. It turns the usual lament about hard times inside-out when the singer decides to vent his anger with an act of arson. Nichols strikes an R&B chord on "Cry No Mississippi," a kiss-off to a faithless lover from a lover who holds his head up high as he tells her he "won't beg or crawl" or "cry no Mississippi." The opener, "Shallow Grave," is the closest the band comes to traditional bluegrass; it's an old-fashioned murder ballad that sounds like it's 200 years old, with Tammy Rogers contributing wailing lonesome fiddling and Bailey adding his desolate banjo picking. ~ j. poet
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Country - Released January 1, 2015 | New Rounder

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Country - Released January 1, 2015 | New Rounder

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Pop - Released January 1, 2010 | New Rounder

Booklet
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Country - Released January 1, 2010 | New Rounder

Booklet