The silver lining of 2020 is that it forced artists to flex their creative muscles in multiple ways: new approaches to writing songs, then finding adventurous avenues to record and promote them. The Steel Wheels upped the ante with an ambitious idea to open up their songwriting gifts to their fans to share their own stories. Lead singer and songwriter Trent Wagler called it “Distance Together” and invited fans to send him stories about their families and friends, their relationships, their lives. Listeners did just that, commissioning works for everything from weddings and anniversaries to dedications to lost loved ones.
The result is Everyone a Song, Vol. 1, and origin story aside, the album’s nine songs form a cohesive whole of touching, personal stories set to The Steel Wheels’ sympathetic backing. The opening “My Name Is Sharon,” a song commissioned by a mother celebrating the life of her daughter, is moody, almost soft rock in its approach, while “Don’t Want to Come Back Down,” about a couple that met on a flight and are still together, drifts along on an easy-rolling and bluesy sway. “Water and Sky” evokes a traditional country waltz, and “Lucy,” a socially-distanced Mother’s Day gift, lights up the room with banjo and fiddle complementing each other perfectly.
One of the best moments on Everyone A Song, Vol. 1 comes near the end. “Genevieve” summons a long drive at dusk with the sun almost gone. The unique vocal riff that drives “Florida Girl (Work For It)” either hypnotizes or irritates, depending on your perspective, mood, or time of day.
Wagler and the rest of the Steel Wheels — Brian Dickel, Jay Lapp, Eric Brubaker, and Kevin Garcia — have found a way to make the most out of what’s been dealt to all of us in a difficult year. In doing so, they’ve found a way to not only bring their music closer to their fans, but to bring their fans closer to each other.