Steep Canyon Rangers “Arm in Arm”

Yep Roc Records, 2020

Artwork for Steep Canyon Rangers Arm in Arm

‘Arm in Arm’ continues the forward-thinking evolution and journey of the Steep Canyon Rangers.

Artwork for Steep Canyon Rangers Arm in ArmThe Steep Canyon Rangers had long tread the thin line between traditional and the progressive bluegrass  For some bands existing between those two while related, but vastly different worlds, can sound like a clumsy attempt to appeal to everyone, but the Steep Canyon Rangers have long ago figured out how to effortlessly live between those worlds.

On their latest ‘Arm in Arm’, they again have crafted an album that just as easily tugs at the heart-strings of a more traditional fan, while at the same time welcoming in a new more casual audience.  For every rumbling banjo run, there is an over-the-top Nashville inspired, singalong chorus sure to excite, or an adventurous stroll into new horizons with instrumentation that seemed foreign to the band before. But do not let that scare you.

‘Arm in Arm’, while featuring the traditional bluegrass sound that the Steep Canyon Rangers have mined for so long, shows the band growing and evolving away from that.  Musically they take more chances and lyrically they tackle more socially relevant topics that would seem at home on a Drive-By Truckers album.  This evolution lyrically is simply the result of the maturation of a band, who are no longer the young twenty-somethings they were when they first started and have now all grown and started families and seen more of the world.  With this growth has seen a new touch point of references for the band that would have seemed out of place in the past.  ‘Everything You Know’ with its opening line “Cortes sailed on his boat so brave/ It was too late to trade/ His treasures for feathers/ As he was sinking down under the waves” comes across an updated bluegrass version of Neil Young’s ‘Cortez The Killer’.  While ‘Take My Mind’ featuring Oliver Wood from the Wood Brothers, with its New Orleans-inspired, swampy, shuffling piano-roll, sounds like the lost child of Dr. John and the Avett Brothers, and marks a giant step in a new direction for the band.

‘Arm in Arm’ continues the forward-thinking evolution and journey of the Steep Canyon Rangers.  It is a journey that while never losing sight of bluegrass shores, is unafraid to try to seek out new musical frontiers.

8/10
8/10

About Tim Newby 44 Articles
Author of books, writer of words, enjoyer of good times. Often found barefoot at a festival somewhere. Author of 'Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin' Sound & Its Legacy' (2015), 'Leftover Salmon: Thirty Years of Festival! (2019) Follow him on twitter @Tim_Newby9 .

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