The collective creativity of the Steep Canyon Rangers shows no sign of weakening, but rather, as the 12 originals here reveal, that it’s rapidly broadening and strengthening. For this new release, the band took their ideas to Woodstock, N.Y., specifically to Levon Helm’s legendary studio, and the results are in the very good to excellent range, though not truly bluegrass in form. There are, however, several nods in that direction, most specifically mandolinist Mike Guggino’s instrumental “Graveyard Fields.” It has a nice pulse and a solid traditional sound, as does Graham Sharp’s “Lay Myself Down,” which comes closest to matching The Rangers sound of their early recordings. “Come Dance” also qualifies, evoking the New Grass Revival, particularly on the chorus and the use of rising and falling chord fills. The rest, however, resemble bluegrass only in their inclusion of a banjo.
Given the choice of studio and producer (Larry Campbell with his rock and blues credentials), the rootsy and country-rock approach that dominates reflects a conscious and ongoing move toward reaching a wider audience. Sharp’s richly-textured and percussive title tune might be read in that regard and is just one of several tunes here that should prove successful in reaching that goal. Drums (beyond the usual brush-style) are prominent on that one, as they are on most of the tracks, and the sound is strongly alt-country and pop. So, too, is the following tune “Stand And Deliver,” which has a catchy riff and vivid imagery, characteristics that recur time and again throughout the recording. “Bluer Words Were Never Spoken” and “Mendocino County Blue” sound like The Dead or New Riders, shuffling along, light and airy. Both are among the best tracks here.
Another highlight track, “Camellia,” nods to Levon Helm and The Band with its groove and lyrics. Throw in the black gospel feel of “Hunger” and the seductive strut and riff of the colorful “Las Vegas” and you have, bluegrass or not, a captivating album of great diversity, energy, and interest. (Concord Music Group, 100 N. Crescent Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210, www.rounder.com.)BW