There's no doubt that the Steep Canyon Rangers have gotten a lot of attention because of the group's association with Steve Martin, who they've backed up and recorded with since 2009, but this is a band, part bluegrass, part country, part folk-pop, that has more than enough talent, skill, and songwriting chops to do just fine all on their own. Led by the writing talents of Graham Sharp and Charles Humphrey, the Rangers produce songs that remain bluegrass in feel and execution, but tackle a wide range of themes and cultural side roads, all without going too far out or too far in, as they say. This set is their second with Rounder Records, following 2012's Grammy-winning Nobody Knows You, and it has, if possible, an even warmer, fuller sound. Produced by Larry Campbell at the late Levon Helm's studio in Woodstock, New York, Tell the Ones I Love has a wonderfully open, warm, and breathy sound to it, probably because much of it was recorded live. The Rangers are all solid players, so that's not a surprise, and neither is how good the songs are, really, but this time out, it all comes together with the grace of a summer breeze. Things get off to a great start with the opener and title song "Tell the Ones I Love," which is a clever and crafted rewrite of the Wreck of the Old 97 school of traditional train songs, and is one of the clear highlights here. "Camellia" sounds like a great lost Band song, all the more fitting because of where it was recorded. "Boomtown," although it is technically a bluegrass tune, has a modern scope in its wry wisdom. "Take the Wheel" features a marvelous ringing and echoing banjo sound, while the set closer, "Las Vegas," is a loose, boozy mesh of bluegrass, New Orleans stomp, and western swing. No, these guys do just fine without Martin, and just fine with him, for that matter (they remain his touring band), and as long as Sharp and Humphrey keep coming up with songs like the ones featured here, the sky is the limit.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett