Album Reviews

Steep Canyon Rangers


Artist:     Steep Canyon Rangers

Album:     Radio

Label:     Rounder

Release Date:     02/28/2015


In the emerging world of modern bluegrass, nu-grass and all things Americana, the field of competition appears to have increased exponentially with every passing day. This is the realm of new populism after all, and where once this music was confined to back porches and intimate gatherings, it’s now playing to crowds numbering in the tens of thousands via festivals and prestigious stages worldwide. It’s also birthed bands of outstanding variety, groups whose music stays true to the traditional trappings while also opening up expansive possibilities for commercial success.

The Steep Canyon Rangers have ridden that wave to the point where they now stand at the highest peak of the bluegrass vanguard, thanks not only to their creative and compositional prowess, but also to their much-ballyhooed tours with Steve Martin, several Grammy nods and, most of all, their exemplary offering of 2013, Tell The Ones I Love, which still sets a standard for today’s bluegrass resurgence. Consequently, it was likely no small challenge when it came time to consider a follow-up, one that would complete the task of assuring their ascendancy.

Happily Radio, the band’s ninth album of their collective career, succeeds on that score, reaffirming the fact that the group’s melodic prowess, driving rhythms and instrumental interplay continue to provide the integral elements essential to their sound. Produced by producer/musician Jerry Douglas, another of the leading lights of the burgeoning bluegrass environs, the album revels in the rich and robust vocals of guitarist Woody Platt and banjo player Graham Sharp, and the feckless performances of bassist Charles R. Humphrey, mandolin player Mike Guggino, percussionist Mike Ashworth and the fiddler Nicky Sanders, whose soaring fills have become one of the group’s most dependable assets. There’s any number of superb standouts destined to become Steep Canyon standbys, but for starters it’s safe to say “Radio,” “Diamonds in the Dust,”  Break,” “Blow Me Away” and “Monumental Fool” will emerge among the key listens. Radio may be a somewhat presumptive title when it comes to the assumption of airplay, but it’s also safe to say that wide recognition is decidedly deserved.

– Lee Zimmerman

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