Every new album by the Steep Canyon Rangers showcases a band intimately at one with themselves and their music. These guys—Graham Sharp on banjo and vocals, Mike Guggino on mandolin/mandola and vocals, Aaron Burdett on guitar and vocals, Nicky Sanders on fiddle and vocals, Mike Ashworth on drums, dobro, guitar and vocals, and Barrett Smith on bass, guitar, and vocals—serve the songs they write with crisp, pure, impeccable instrumentation and exalted harmonies that lift their songs into a sonic stratosphere.
The album kicks off with the propulsive “Hominy Valley,” launched by banjo and mandolin runs and driven by scurrying fiddle; its bright, dynamic force belies the lamentations over our inability to take care of the world in which we find ourselves, choosing too often to pave away the sacred character of the natural world without recognizing what we’ve lost. (Check out the premiere of the video for “Hominy Valley” HERE.) The rambunctious fiddle and banjo call and response of “Deep End” serves up a breathless bluegrass scamper about charging head first into life, while swamp country, bluegrass funk animates “Second in Line (Junior),” a ballad of deep holler family life and power and propriety.
The instrumental trilogy “Old Stone House/Handlebars/Chimney Rock” opens with Nicky Sanders’ fiddle on the melancholy first tune; Sharp’s banjo drives the other two tunes as the trilogy quickly picks up tempo, ending with a final flash of fiddle. An energetic call and response transports listeners to an ethereal realm on the gospel-inflected “Above My Burdens,” while the band’s sparkling harmonies kick off the luminous “Birds of Ohio.” The album closes with the somber and sparse “Recommend Me.” And on the galloping refrain from the title track of the Steep Canyon Rangers’ new album, the group’s soaring harmonies wrap around their yearning that comes with every sunrise and sunset: “When I wake up this morning/To when I lay down at night/I want to know I’ve done something right.”
The Steep Canyon Rangers can rest easy, for this unblemished album affirms they continue to do everything right; the organic tone of the music and their flawless delivery carries us into the studio, giving us the feeling of sitting right there as they’re making the album.
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