Sometimes one worries that the art and practice of making and listening to real live music will go the way of the dodo. Steep Ravine, a California-based 4-piece quickly puts that worry to rest. The youthful band exuded enthusiastic joy in making music upon taking the stage in Berkeley. Lead vocalist and guitarist Simon Linsteadt and violinist/vocalist Jan Purat began playing together as High School students, and their quartet has the relaxed, casual air of friends who’ve been showing up at each other’s houses to play for a long time…only once they pick up their instruments, it’s clear they’re very serious musicians, equal parts jazz combo, bluegrass pickers and emotive songwriters, as well as respectful students of classical form and lineage, who know they’re onto a good thing.
Evoking the peaceful, easy feeling of their California coastal home with songs about tequila and the seaside, creeping blues and faultlines, Steep Ravine dug into a varied set of tunes utilizing a broad palette of sounds and licks (and a notable lack of pretension), that place the band beyond straightforward genre. And that voice! Or rather, those voices. Linsteadt has a surfer’s smile and vocal delivery that calls to mind Nick Drake and early Neil Young, soulful and smooth beyond his years. Bass player Alex Bice put a confident spin on a Bill Monroe tune, and everyone, including drummer Jeff Wilson, added more than capable harmony as needed.
It’s easy to imaging getting comfortable listening to this band in a variety of settings: as in grab a drink and stretch out on a blanket, or get cozy in a jazz club booth, and settle in for a few hours. No wonder Steep Ravine has already played festival stages including High Sierra Music and Outside Lands. Whether you call them a California bluegrass band or an adventuresome jazz combo, the sounds they make add up to delightful, and welcome, music to the ear.