Review: 'The Muscle Shoals Recordings,' SteelDrivers NPR music critic Meredith Ochs reviews the new album from bluegrass band SteelDrivers titled The Muscle Shoals Recordings.
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Review: 'The Muscle Shoals Recordings,' SteelDrivers

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Review: 'The Muscle Shoals Recordings,' SteelDrivers

Review

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Review: 'The Muscle Shoals Recordings,' SteelDrivers

Review: 'The Muscle Shoals Recordings,' SteelDrivers

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NPR music critic Meredith Ochs reviews the new album from bluegrass band SteelDrivers titled The Muscle Shoals Recordings.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tennessee is also home to The SteelDrivers, a bluegrass band from Nashville. In 10 years together, the group is racked up Grammy nominations and weathered lineup changes. Their new album pays homage to a different state. It's titled "The Muscle Shoals Recordings," and it's named after the part of Alabama where they recorded it. The area's been a musical hotbed since the 1960s that attracted artists like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. Meredith Ochs has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE STEELDRIVERS SONG, "TOO MUCH")

MEREDITH OCHS, BYLINE: "Shades Of Muscle Shoals" have been part of The SteelDrivers' sound ever since front-man Gary Nichols joined the band five years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOO MUCH")

GARY NICHOLS: (Singing) Too much sugar, too much caffeine, too much violence on my TV.

OCHS: Nichols grew up there in one of the most fertile grounds for American music, and its imprint is on his singing. You can hear it every time his voice ascends. It's not the sort of high lonesome stretch you might hear in bluegrass. It's a soul shout straight off some of the classic rhythm and blues that the region is known for.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOO MUCH")

NICHOLS: (Singing) Too much taxes, everybody get a cut. I don't worry - don't worry about it too much. I don't worry - I don't worry about it too much. I don't worry - I don't worry about it too much.

OCHS: Just as Gary Nichols' voice goes to unexpected places, The SteelDrivers do the same in their lyrics, shifting from contemporary refrains to historical themes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIVER RUNS RED")

NICHOLS: (Singing) Thirty-first day of December, 3,000 dressed in blue and gray.

OCHS: In this Civil War story-song, they whisk you back to the present at the very end. It's sad, beautiful and chilling all at once when you realize they've taken you to a haunted place.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIVER RUNS RED")

NICHOLS: (Singing) Now the water looks clean and untainted, but Stones River will never run clear because the river runs red. The river runs red. No winners or losers when you count the dead. We watch it roll by. We all bow our heads. The guns have gone silent, but the river runs red.

OCHS: While Gary Nichols' singing is a big part of what makes The SteelDrivers different from straightforward bluegrass, there's even more to love on their new album. They're playing is magnetic, circling around Tammy Rogers' lyrical fiddle. During concerts, they joke about not playing any gospel tunes, so when an angel shows up in this song, it's not a classic sacred-meets-profane moment but rather a heartbreaker bound for hell.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONG WAY DOWN")

NICHOLS: (Singing) I've thought that you were sent from heaven. You had me floatin' on a cloud. But tonight my sky has fallen, and it's a long way down. It's a long way down.

OCHS: The SteelDrivers have always made acoustic music with an edge. "Muscle Shoals" just makes it a little swampier, and it suits them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONG WAY DOWN")

NICHOLS: (Singing) So far down that it ain't got a bottom. Thought you had wings, but I guess you ain't got 'em. Fallen angel, don't look down. Oh, oh, oh, it's a long way down.

MARTIN: The SteelDrivers' new album is "The Muscle Shoals Recordings." Our reviewer is Meredith Ochs.

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