Tangled Up In Blue Grass: Finger-picking phenoms make sure everybody remembers them
For anyone who thinks bluegrass is nothing more than a bunch of hillbillies making a terrible racket on washtubs and whiskey jugs, Steep Canyon Rangers are here to knock some cotton-pickin’ sense into ya. The five-man band—six, when actor Steve Martin sits in on banjo—has been reinventing bluegrass for the last decade. In the past year alone, SCR’s success has reached towering heights with two impressive honors: The International Bluegrass Music Association’s “Entertainers of the Year” award and an enthusiastic wag of First Dog Bo’s tail at the White House Fourth of July gala.
The Steep Canyon Rangers understand that the bluegrass gene pool has even more variety and spice than great Mee Maw’s chow-chow. The music’s birthplace, the Appalachian region, was colonized by the Spanish and later settled by the Irish, Italians and anyone else who could hack the frontier life. And SCR’s latest, Nobody Knows You, is a testament to this rich multicultural tapestry. Midway through the album, at the start of “Open Country,” vunder fiddler Nicky Sanders somehow makes his stringed instrument sound like bagpipes. And on “Knob Creek,” SCR’s master o’ mandolin, Mike Guggino, puts his classical training to work in a haunting ballad that quivers between “Malaguena” and “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”
The songs on Nobody Knows You are true to SCR’s failed love, forgotten dreams fare. They range from cheeky narratives like “Ungrateful One” to moody, forlorn tunes like “Summer Winds,” where “silence is a wrecking ball crashing through my dreams.” And then, there’s the brilliant musicality of “Nobody Knows You,” with its air-tight harmonies, rhythmic William Faulkner-worthy run-ons where one instrument ends into another’s beginning, and finger-picking that will kick your teeth in.
Take it from me: Listening to Nobody Knows You inside some office cubicle is like asking Chef Gordon Ramsay for a side of ketchup with your steak. This album is pure, 10-bandaided-finger combustibility—the notes need room to breathe, like a freshly uncorked keg of moonshine, each pluck of each string hitching a ride on the cool, Allegheny mountain breeze.