If one record stands the bluegrass world on its ear this year, it'll be The SteelDrivers; no "bluegrass" record in recent memory changes the lay of the land more. With Nashville heavyweights like mandolinist Mike Henderson (a Mark Knopfler sideman whom Jesse Dayton describes as "one sick puppy"), Lake Jackson native Tammy Rogers on fiddle and guitarist/lead vocalist Chris Stapleton — one veteran Nashville producer calls him "one of the most talented people in town right now" — this supergroup blasts its way through ten original songs that melt the woofers and blow the tweeters. Stapleton's bluesy, growling moan could kickstart traffic on the Gulf Freeway at rush hour; couple his vocals with the stringed brilliance of other members such as Grammy-nominated banjoist Richard Bailey, hard-touring bassist Mike Fleming and the incomparable Dead Reckoners duo of Henderson and Rogers, and all that comes out of your CD player is blue smoke. This record breaks more ground than a John Deere tractor in high gear, and country and bluegrass radio programmers are likely to pedal backwards from it at warp speed. That's too bad, because The SteelDrivers is a top-of-the-lungs scream that says not only is country/bluegrass alive, it continues to evolve in exciting ways commercial forces can't control.
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