The six musicians who make up the North Carolina based Steep Canyon Rangers started out nearly twenty years ago with their feet firmly planted in the bluegrass genre. Over time, they’ve morphed into a true supergroup: crazy good musicians who’ve developed an innate understanding of each other’s talents and who know exactly how to work with each other to achieve the best possible sound. But, in 2017/2018, is it a true bluegrass sound? Well, kind of.
Of course, identifying a band as part of a specific musical genre has become less and less important. Good music is good music and, frankly, who cares if it’s called country or bluegrass or rock ‘n’ roll? The Steep Canyon Rangers don’t seem to care, that’s for sure, and neither does producer Joe Henry. Together, they’ve created ‘Out in the Open,’ an album that really does offer something for everyone.
There’s a melancholy Americana sound that rings out in the opening track, “Farmers and Pharaohs” (just try not to sink into some deep personal reflection as you listen to a man who longs for another chance at the past); barbershop quartet (sextet?) fans will delight in “Shenandoah Valley,” with its almost-but-not-quite-gimmicky whistling and vocal harmonies; and there’s a classic country feel to “Love Harder,” thanks in part to the banjo, mandolin, and fiddle trio that runs throughout the tune. And, in true bluegrass fashion, each instrument gets its chance to shine throughout the album, too: the banjo quietly (yes, really) works its magic on “Roadside Anthems,” and harmonica fans will rejoice in the title track.
In short, ‘Out in the Open’ is a stellar addition to the Rangers’ discography. It’s full of emotion, heart, and soul, and for an album of songs that seem to circle around themes of loss, regret, and wishes for second chances, there’s an underlying air of hope, a promise that, as you hear in a gorgeous cover of Bob Dylan’s “Let Me Die in My Footsteps,” “mistakes of a past history” won’t be repeated.