Jason Cope has gone and Wes Bayliss has created a musical monument.
The lines between southern rock and country have been blurred since the Allmans’ ‘Brothers and Sisters’ and Hank William Jr.’s ‘Hank William Jr. & Friends’ in the ‘70s, and the links have only grown stronger over subsequent decades. The Steel Woods are one of the leading bands of the current southern rock genre having been formed in 2016 by guitarist Jason Cope, who had spent ten yours backing Jamey Johnson, and guitarist and vocalist Wes Bayliss. Cope and Bayliss had a shared vision for the Steel Woods which included mixing the influences of artists like the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard with Led Zeppelin, with articulate lyrics that reflect blue-collar life. Tragically, the Steel Woods’ story more closely tracked that of the Allmans and Skynyrd when co-founder Jason “Rowdy” Cope died aged 42 in 2021 after the recording of their third album. Clearly, the band decided to carry on and ‘On Your Time’ is their first album without Cope and his guitar and songwriting. Bayliss has said that one of the reasons the band decided to continue was that he felt he understood Cope’s musical vision and views enough to believe he would have wanted the band to continue. Bayliss and Cope shared songwriting and production for the band, and Bayliss has picked up the songwriting and production slack.
The opening track ‘The Man From Everywhere’ emphasises continuity for the Steel Woods as while this is a new Wes Bayliss song, it is a prequel to the story of ‘Uncle Lloyd’, a Darrell Scoot cover on their debut album. The further exploration of the story of a man who lost everything good in his life because of his drinking and gambling informs ‘On Your Time’ and shows that the sound and storytelling ability of the Steel Woods is still very much intact. I’m not sure if Led Zeppelin ever wrote a song about cutting the grass, but ‘Cut The Grass’ was inspired by Bayliss’s growing family responsibilities and how kids change lives. Grit and determination are at the heart of ‘Devil In The Holler’ with its heavy guitar. Blues guitar frames ‘Famine Fortune’ a song that reimagines Adam and Eve in a contemporary context. The title track ‘On Your Time’ explores a father-son relationship and is inspired by Bayliss’s own relationship with his son. The band covers Gretchen Peter’s ‘You Don’t Even Know Who I Am’ which looks at a divorce from both partners’ perspectives. The Steel Woods bring tension to Kristofferson’s ‘Border Lord’, a song inspired by Kristofferson’s then new experiences as a touring musician. ‘Stories To Tell Myself’ was written in 2018 and echoes the early days of the band. Darrell Scott adds steel guitar to ‘Broke Down Dam’ making it clear he has no issues with Wes Bayliss adding to the ‘Uncle Lloyd’ story. Album closer ‘If Not For The Rain’ reminds everyone you can’t have happiness without the pain of achieving it.
Jason “Rowdy” Cope left a massive hole in the Steel Woods, the band he founded with Wes Bayliss to deliver his own musical vision he had honed as a guitar for hire with Jamey Johnson. However, Wes Bayliss wasn’t a junior partner in the band and he has used his songwriting skills and his voice to craft a set of songs on ‘On Your Time’ that honours Jason Cope’s memory very effectively and ensures his spirit still inhabits the band. This will please the many fans of the band and has sidestepped the question of how the Steel Woods will develop without Jason “Rowdy” Cope.