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The SteelDrivers play great at late hour

Station Inn, Nashville, September 17, 2008

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The hour was late and grew even later by about five minutes of sound difficulties at the outset, but in the case of The SteelDrivers, it was worth it because the bluegrass band of veteran musicians was well worth the wait for a band that released its debut earlier this year to much acclaim.

The SteelDrivers, playing a 50-minute set on the opening night of the Americana Music Association conference showcases, is a different kind of band because of the lead singing of Chris Stapleton. He is better known as a songwriter, but his vocals help really give the band an identifiable sound. Stapleton owns a bluesy, full voice that owns the songs time and again right from the get go with Angel Tonight or later with his very throaty vocals on Midnight Train to Memphis.

It doesn't hurt that he also has a lot of help from folks like Tammy Rogers on violin, Mike Henderson on mandolin, Richard Bailey on banjo and Mike Fleming on upright bass. Each is a veteran and adds a lot to the driving, bluesy-based bluegrass sound that is The SteelDrivers. Rogers and Fleming also aided on backing harmonies, giving a different feel to the set from time to time.

The SteelDrivers ended with Blue Side of the Mountain, containing the same energy and drive they had in the beginning with Henderson on slide. The hour was late, but when a band makes music this good, time stands still.

Randy Kohrs showcased his talents before The SteelDrivers with a set that mixed country and bluegrass. Kohrs is an ace Dobro player, not quite as expansive a sound as Jerry Douglas, but he certainly can hold his own. His singing is also powerful and very twangy as evidenced on the lead-off Miles of Heartache andLittle By Little. Kohrs later changed it up to very good effect on Kate Campbell's Shallow Grave.

However, the sound was a bit loud for the setting because in this case, less would have been more in what was otherwise a good set.

Dailey & Vincent, the bluegrass group that has had a great year with 10 International Bluegrass Music Association nominations, sounded really good in the two songs heard. Their vocals are tight, and the playing is superb. It left one wanting to see a lot more of Dailey & Vincent.