we review The SteelDrivers
‘Bad For You’
Released 7 February 2020
By Kimberley Wheeler
The SteelDrivers have a new album. Their previous release, The Muscle Shoals Recordings, won a GRAMMY for Best Bluegrass Album (2015) so I was taken aback when shortly after this momentous award, their singer, guitarist and joint main songwriter, Garry Nichols left the band. For most, a shift like this would cause a group to fold. Yet this is a band that has been down this path before and their track record on regrouping in the face of upheaval is 100%.
In 2010, Chris Stapleton, whose soul vocals were at the core of their signature sound, bid farewell to pursue a solo venture. He was followed shortly after by founding member Mick Henderson in 2011. In these departures, the band lost both their songwriters.
Hammer Down was the first album after these departures, it featured a mixture of Stapleton/ Henderson material plus new contributions from the fresh Rodgers/ Nichols writing partnership. Tammy Rodgers is the band’s fiddle player and Nichols was the replacement lead singer and guitarist at that time. This album peaked at #1 on the Billboard Bluegrass Charts, one spot higher than each of the previous two albums. This later writing combo became the core for their most successful release to date, The Muscle Shoals Recordings. If I was the betting kinda gal, I just might put a dollar or two on this next album. Because, WOW, what a staggering turnaround for the SD team.
As you are well aware, the thing a good album must have at its core is good songs. This is the basis of The SteelDrivers. Add to this awesome and artistic musicianship and production and you should come out with a correspondingly good album. While Nichols‘s loss to the band is significant, the now primary songwriter, Tammy Rogers sought out and collaborated with various writer friends, including Kieran Kane, Rayna Gellert and former bandmate Chris Stapleton, to create the collection of songs that is Bad For You. (There’s also a banjo instrumental by Richard Bailey)
To date, everything they have released has been in the quality and character of what is The SteelDrivers, irrespective of the upheavals and chaos behind the scenes. Bad For You is no exception. It is closest in character to The Muscle Shoals Recordings, although it is interesting to note that their new singer, Kelvin Damrell sounds awfully like Stapleton, creating a sonic connection to earlier work. From the beginning, the Nashville-based band set out to deviate from the conventional bluegrass sound, and with Kelvin, they still preserved their soul-country accent within the genre.
Their singles so far are the dark r’n’ b title track “Bad For You” and a song aimed at the country market “I Choose You”. There are eleven tracks in all, being ten songs and the Bailey-penned instrumental. The gems for this reviewer are the catchy “Bartender”, the dark sounding part-Appalachian infused “12 O’Clock Blues”, the heartbreaking “Falling Man” about the 9/11 attacks, and “Innocent Man”.
Bad For You is a bluegrass and more album, with strands of r ‘n’ b, Appalachian Old Time and Cajun themes intermingled through various tracks. Further, the dark sonic undertones you have heard creep through in previous releases are very present in this new offering, albeit a little bit blacker than before. If this album were a horse that I had put money on, I would be very sure of winning my bet back, plus some. It is a worthy release.
The SteelDrivers’ fifth album Bad For You (on Rounder Records) is due for release on 7th February.
via Wortman Works
Ed: Kimberley Wheeler is a prominent songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist. As well as solo work, she has been a member of highly-regarded bands such as Uncle Bill, Little Rabbit and the Appalachian Heaven Stringband. She is a former President of the Australasian Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association (ABOTMA). Her latest project, Kimberley Wheeler’s Roadside Holiday will see a new release early in 2020. Kimberley also manages an IT consultancy, Madam PC Networking and Computing.
we review The SteelDrivers