Jeffrey Steele

Hell on Wheels – 2008 (3 Ring Circus)

Reviewed by Jessica Phillips

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CDs by Jeffrey Steele

Judging from the cover of his latest album (which pictures a buff, blonde Jeffrey Steele in the middle of a Steven Tyler-esque moment at the mic), this rocker is at his best when he's on the road with a crowd. Steele refuses to rest on his laurels of being a hit songwriter of more than 60 top songs for artists like Faith Hill, Rascal Flatts, and Tim McGraw, an album producer for Montgomery Gentry and Keith Andersen, a judge for the popular TV show Nashville Star, and a recent Golden Globe Award nominee (for his song I Thought I Lost You, co-written with Miley Cyrus for the movie "Bolt"). He's out to show the world he's an ace artist and performer too.

With a stint as the lead singer for country group Boy Howdy and two solo albums under his belt, Steele proves he can command a song as much with his voice as he can with a pen. He attacks each tune with the rugged intimacy and ferocity that perhaps only the true creator of a song can. Listen to his blistering take on the achingly honest lyrics in Hey God or the defiant, nostalgic story song Helldorado.

Despite Steele's finger clearly being on the pulse of popular country music today, it would be a stretch to describe him as Contemporary Country. Crunching guitar solos, heavy backbeats and raw intensity draw far too much influence from Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Fogerty and Aerosmith for that comparison.

Not that artists looking for that next big country hit will be disappointed. The revenge-seeking Your Tears are Coming, and idealistic Sweet Natural Girl, (covered by Emerson Drive) are good bets. Perhaps Sweet Salvation of Southern Rock and Roll or the bluesy romp Down Here would fit well on Kid Rock or Van Zant's next country effort.

Those who love Steele's lyrics, but crave more rock than the usual country radio fare, will appreciate the standout vocals and great songs.