The Steep Canyon Rangers are best known over the past decade for backing Steve Martin in his musical pursuits, but the North Carolina-based outfit has been active since 2000, and "Arm In Arm" marks their third release in 2020 alone. Bluegrass is at the core of the music infused with substantial doses of country, folk and rock.
The set kicks off with a pair of the stronger bluegrass tunes that are thematically polar opposite with "One Drop of Rain" lamenting a troubled relationship ("If I shed one tear I'd flood this town/And together we would drown") while "Sunny Days" focuses on a more positive union ("I always find you at my door/One step ahead of the storm").
The folksy "In the Next Life" is reminiscent of James McMurtry and suggests that current good fortune may be attributed to karma ("Somewhere in a past life I must've been a real saint/Hey, lucky me, born with money in the bank"), while the country ballad "Every River" takes a veiled shot at political corruption ("But we shall not cave to to a house of deception/We shall not cave to the kings living only for the crown").
Other standout tracks are the '50s rock and roll flavored "Take My Mind" with guests Oliver Wood on slide guitar and Michael Bearden on piano, and the ballad "Bullet in the Fire" that ponders the uncertainty of life ("The man is a liar who says that he sees anything beyond this day/The bullet in the fire is laughing at the choices and the plans we made").
Produced by the band with Brandon Bell, all tunes were written or co-written by Graham Sharp (banjo) with stellar musicianship throughout particularly from Mike Guggino (mandolin) and Nicky Sanders (fiddle). Though their collaborations with Martin have given them invaluable exposure, "Arm In Arm" is further evidence of the Steep Canyon Rangers' appeal beyond that star power.