Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
en years into its existence, the driving bluegrass band The SteelDrivers finally
made its Boston debut.
To be fair, the band, which releases its fourth CD, "The Muscle Shoals Recordings," on June 16, has played the greater Boston area, such as the Joe Val Music Festival. But as fiddle player Tammy Rogers said, this marked the debut of the band in Boston proper.
That may be splitting hairs over geography because the bottom line was that The SteelDrivers remain one highly skilled group no matter they play.
Confident also. After all, starting with a pretty much unheard track, the leadoff "Long Way Down" from the upcoming CD shows that this is a band that believes in its music - as well it should.
The new material stood up quite well, including "Ashes of Yesterday" and "Hangin' Around." Even more new songs would have been most welcome because they were not all that different from other SteelDrivers material.
The SteelDrivers were a combination of straight-ahead bluegrass and country with songs ranging from hell raising "Drinkin' Dark Whiskey" to Sunday morning material ("Weight in Gold"). And even a love song of sorts ("If It Hadn't Been for Love," a deadly love song recorded as well by one British singer by the name of Adele)
Personnel has changed a bit over time in the band, but the bottom line was that seemed to have no impact over the sound or quality. Muscle Shoals resident Gary Nichols replaced Chris Stapleton five years ago as the lead singer. Frankly, there's not a whole lot of difference between the two - quite a good thing. Nichols is every bit a soulful a singer as Stapleton. Nichols may not quite have the same physical presence of the long-haired, bearded Stapleton, but if you closed your eyes, one would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two.
About the only negative was that it was sometimes hard to see Nichols who was at the far right of the stage due to the lighting. As the front man, one would figure that he would be in the thick of things.
Rogers often aided Nichols on backing harmonies and took a few lead vocal lines here and there. That's when she wasn't letting loose on her fiddle.
And the remainder of the band was top shelf as well when it came to playing out. That would be Richard Bailey on banjo, Brent Truitt on mandolin and Mike Fleming on bass. There was no hogging the spotlight by any of these players.
That was not a surprise either because they all at the top of their game. One of the best interplays was a battle back and forth between Bailey on banjo and Nichols on acoustic guitar. Cute and fun.
Drawing strength from an enthusiastic crowd - many of whom had never seen the band before - here's hoping that it won't be another 10 years before The SteelDrivers make their second stand in Boston.
Sara Lou Richards opened, playing acoustic solo guitar. Catching only several of her songs, Richards displayed a lovely voice with nice readings of both Lori McKenna's "Fear of Flying" and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?"