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.
AllMusic Review by j. poet