The Steep Canyon Rangers – Radio

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The Steep Canyon Rangers
have spent much of their career walking a fine line between traditional
bluegrass and acoustic music with a strong contemporary pop and country
influence, and they’ve blurred the lines between the two sides of their
musical personality more than ever before on 2015’s Radio. One of the key differences on Radio is the addition of a sixth Ranger, percussionist Mike Ashworth,
and even though his kit primarily consists of just a box played with
brushes, his steady pulse subtly but clearly points to the melodic hooks
in numbers like “Simple Is Me,” “Blow Me Away,” “Long Summer,” and the
title tune, and without having to plug into an amp, the Rangers
set themselves apart from bluegrass acts who prefer to pretend it’s
still the early ’50s. At the same time, these musicians are remarkably
skilled, both as individuals and as an ensemble, and when they do dig
into their bluegrass roots, they do so with a clear love and respect for
the form, and with “Blue Velvet Rain,” “Looking Glass,” and “When the
Well Runs Dry” they show just how fresh they can sound while working
within a tried-and-true framework. It’s a thrill to hear a band this
good playing together, and Ashworth, Mike Guggino (mandolin), Charles R. Humphrey III (bass), Woody Platt (guitar), Nicky Sanders (fiddle), and Graham Sharp
(banjo) are as gifted as any young band in bluegrass, with each member
earning his stripes when stepping up for a solo, and coming together
with outstanding ensemble work and spot-on harmonies. Produced by Jerry Douglas, who captures the group’s musical interplay beautifully and contributes some fine Dobro work as well, Radio
is an outstanding album from one of the most exciting new bands in
bluegrass, and if you know them best for their work with a certain
talented banjo-playing comedian and actor, you owe it to yourself to
find out how much they can do on their own.

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