Review: Steep Canyon Rangers – Nobody Knows You (Rounder, 2012)
Having hooked up with Steve Martin in 2009, this quintet gained mainstream attention that mirrored the renown they’d built in bluegrass circles over the previous decade. After backing Martin for a tour of his 2009 album, The Crow, and collaborating for last year’s Rare Bird Alert, they now return to their own work and original material. The only cover in this lot is Tim Hardin’s “Reputation,” sung at a tempo that inches towards the Association’s 1967 blues-rock cover and with harmonies that expand upon the Byrds’ 1968 version. The original tunes are all rooted in bluegrass instrumentation, but interweave elements of newgrass, country and gospel. The songs include stories of earnest courting, lost souls, tenuous relationships and natural pleasures. The band’s harmonies are strong, perhaps even a tad in your face in spots, and contrast with playing that’s tight and enthusiastic, but relaxed and delicate enough to have soul. The latter is the sort of thing that can escape players with bluegrass-quality chops, and though you get to hear the instrumentalists solo, they do so without having the band drop into the background. The album’s one instrumental, “Knob Creek,” is fittingly, an ensemble piece. The Rangers are a talented band with taste, chops and enough invention to keep their music growing.