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The SteelDrivers put groove in their grass

Station Inn, Nashville, June 14, 2008

Reviewed by Jessica Phillips

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Few people in the crowd would have minded if the popular bluegrass newcomers The SteelDrivers had strode onstage looking a bit overconfident in their abilities. After all, each member of this super talented group has had years of professional touring (with the likes of Reba McEntire, Jim Lauderdale and Trisha Yearwood) and recording experience (as well as hit songs and Grammy nominations).

Kicking things off with "East Kentucky Home," it was clear from the enthusiastic cheering that this was a crowd of hardcore 'Driver fans. Expert fiddle player Tammy Rogers, bass master Mike Fleming and lead vocalist Chris Stapleton offered a tight harmony on "Midnight Tears." Stapleton's bluesy and southern rock-infused vocals have to be one of the most recognizable and unique of any new band in bluegrass. His vocals makes one wonder what CCR's John Fogerty or Skynard's Ronnie Van Zant, might have sounded like if they went bluegrass.

After the lover's revenge song "Painted in Poison," featuring a great banjo line by Richard Bailey and lead vocals by mandolin player Mike Henderson, one zealous fan shouted," Turn it up! Turn it up!" to which Stapleton shot back over the cheering crowd, "Dude, we turned it up as loud as we can go. Y'all just gonna have to be quieter."

With so much experience under their strings, you'd expect a band like this to be vying for their solo slots, but not so with this amiable (and sometimes sarcastic) group. They comfortably traded leads, smiling and watching each other intently through "Lay Your Memory Down," (featuring a lead vocal by Rogers) and "Be With You Again."

Stapleton's subtle yet aching rendition of the beautiful "You Put the Hurt on Me," was the zenith of the night beginning with only his rough and grainy lead vocals ("since you've been gone/the dark got twice as deep/the flames have turned to ashes/but there's still some embers left"), eventually bringing in some pulsating fiddle work and subdued backing.

Other highlights included the Stapleton/Fleming co-write "Drinkin' Dark Whiskey," the banjo-laden "If You Can't Be Good, Be Gone" and the gospel flair of "Rock Ain't Rolled Away." Clocking in at about 90 minutes, the group seemed eager to stay till the doors closed, which wouldn't have offended this crowd one bit.