The SteelDrivers

The SteelDrivers

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The Steel Drivers hail from Nashville, TN and concoct a sound that combines elements of tradition with contemporary flourishes. One might call the group's self-titled debut neo-acoustic. It's a sound that relies on mandolins, fiddles, and guitars, one that skirts bluegrass without being constricted by it. Banjoist Richard Bailey, bassist-vocalist Mike Fleming, mandolinist-vocalist Mike Henderson, fiddler-vocalist Tammy Rogers, and guitarist-lead vocalist Chris Stapleton deliver 11 full-bodied tracks on The Steel Drivers, highlighted by Stapleton's scratchy, Tom Waits meets bluegrass vocals. The fact that Stapleton's vocals serve as the band's calling card will make it easy for the the Steel Drivers to stand out among other neo-acoustic bands. But while the band's "big sound" -- Stapleton's hoarse vocals, the group harmony, and bright production -- really calls attention to itself one track at a time, it can be a bit bombastic song after song. The first three songs, "Blue Side of the Mountain," "Drinkin' Dark Whiskey," and "Midnight Train to Memphis" are like a one-two-three punch of sonic energy. "Midnight Tears" and "If You Can't Be Good, Be Gone" stick closer to bluegrass and offer a slight pause after the first three. But even here, the Steel Drivers' vocal attack along with the crisp production seldom allows the music a chance to breathe. The ballad-paced "Sticks That Made Thunder" is an exception to the rule, a track that winningly shows off the band's softer side. The Steel Drivers are a talented lot, and the sonic blast of many of these songs presented individually will probably take radio listeners by surprise. Taken as a whole, however, The Steel Drivers are stuck in overdrive.

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