Album Reviews

The SteelDrivers

The Muscle Shoals Recordings

Artist:     The SteelDrivers

Album:     The Muscle Shoals Recordings

Label:     Rounder

Release Date:     06/16/2015


The SteelDrivers have seen a few personnel changes over the years. Ever since guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Gary Nichols, from Muscle Shoals, AL, joined the group, and his influence permeates every nook and cranny of the band, like the Mississippi at high water. That said, Nichols hasn’t taken over the group of fine professionals: with Richard Bailey on banjo, Brent Truitt (another recent arrival) on mandolin, Mike Fleming underpinning the group on bass and Tammy Rogers on irrepressible fiddle, the SteelDrivers remain very much a unit, not a backup band.

As one might expect from the title (Muscle Shoals’ hometown FAME studios recorded Wilson Pickett and many other classic soul artists), the SteelDrivers waste no time putting us on notice that there’s a touch of soul coloring many of the tunes, starting with the very first track, “Long Way Down,” co-written by fiddler Rogers. The next track (co-written by former SteelDriver Chris Singleton, now pursuing a solo country career) swings into an irrepressible bluegrass/country number, “Drinkin’ Alone,” that races along at a breakneck no-cops-in-sight frenzy which begs the question, “Why do Northerners think life is slower in the South?”

Jason Isbell joined the band on slide guitar on a couple tunes, and the instrumental “California Chainsaw,” in particular, shows off Bailey’s banjo chops, but each member here really shines on their respective instruments—often the case with bluegrass—but as one listen of Muscle Shoals will prove, the SteelDrivers have talent in spades.

—Suzanne Cadgène

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