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The Steel Wheels prove stylish

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., June 8, 2017

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Don't bother trying to pigeon-hole The Steel Wheels. First and foremost, the Virginia band probably would be associated with bluegrass, but not exactly. Some country, especially with some gorgeous multi-part harmonies, but definitely not exactly. Folk sounds certainly were present. And in this day and age, you could throw some jam-band elements into the mix.

Maybe that's the beauty of the musical scene in recent years. Genre hopping is almost taken for granted. Whatever the style, though, The Steel Wheels delivered a most satisfying set.

Having a bunch of worthy material to select from certainly helped, giving the band a chance to change it up a bit from song to song. Lead singer Trent Wagler was more than capable helming the band with his slightly gritty vocals adding a bit of teeth to the material. Wagler was a likable type, comfortable, but forceful when needed in singing.

The group played all but one song ("Heartbeat" was left out) from the brand new disc "Wild as We Came Here," the group's 10th. Highlights included the pretty sounding, harmony laden "Sing Me Like a Folk Song" and "Scrape Me Off the Ceiling."

The mid-tempo, ballad "Red Wing," featuring four-part harmony and Wagler gently strumming the guitar, also proved pleasing. Wagler explained that the song was based on a song his grandfather taught him with the band putting words to the music.

The Steel Wheels also benefited from keen musicianship with Eric Brubaker adding nice touches throughout on fiddle with Wagler on banjo and Jay Lapp on acoustic guitar, mandolin and resophonic on several songs. Brian Dickel helped establish a healthy bottom beat (the group also was aided by a touring drummer, who kept it on the simple and quieter side) on upright bass. "Take Me to the Ending" combined lovely three-part harmonies along with fiddle.

They approached hoe down status on a few tracks as well revving it up and playing out with force.

Call them bluegrass, folk, country, jammy, roots or Americana. The monikers all fit The Steel Wheels, as they demonstrated they were quite worthy no matter the style.