Last Thursday evening, Candice and I made the trek to the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis to catch The SteelDrivers – one of the more innovative and energetic bands in bluegrass today. It was my introduction to their live music and we weren’t disappointed.
First of all, this is not your father’s bluegrass. There are equal parts Nashville, soul, bluegrass, great songwriting, and strong instrumental chops. I’ve seen Tammy Rogers when she played with Patty Loveless, but her work with the SteelDrivers goes to another level. On Thursday, she gave the band the energy that had the crowd roaring from the opening notes. Banjo player Richard Bailey was understated but beyond solid, Gary Nichols has a terrific voice out of the Muscle Shoals tradition and bassist Mike Flemming provided the band’s foundation both instrumentally and vocally. I especially liked the addition of Mike Henderson’s metal body National guitar, with the slide taking the place of the more traditional bluegrass Dobro. A great sound.
The real surprise for me was that the songwriting of this band is especially strong. Over the course of their almost two-hour show, they come up with some of the best country phrases around:
- “Drinking dark whiskey, tellin’ white lies”
- “If you can’t be good, be gone”
- “You put the hurt on me like I never felt before”
- And the classic, “Guitars, whiskey, guns, and knives…three’s a crowd and four’s a fight.”
This is a terrific band, and they rocked the Rams Head Tavern on Thursday night. The crowd was knowledgeable and appreciative, and the SteelDrivers responded.
Catch them the next time they are in your town. But until then, enjoy a little corn liquor (although the studio version doesn’t do justice to the energy in the live show).
More to come…