Monday, May 14, 2012

CD REVIEW - Steep Canyon Rangers - Nobody Knows You

By Dan King

Steep Canyon Rangers - Nobody Knows You

Rounder Records
Released: April, 2012

Most folks these days have at least a casual awareness of the Steep Canyon Rangers from their affiliation with actor/comedian Steve Martin. The banjo picking wild and crazy guy has been recording and touring with the group for the past few years, and their numerous tour dates and television appearances have introduced them to quite a large audience.

The band’s latest recording, “Nobody Knows You,” finds them getting back to their own devices sans the comic relief and yeoman banjo picking of Martin.

One wonders if a little humor might have helped the effort.

SCR consists of Woody Platt on guitar, Mike Guggino on mandolin, Charles Humphrey III on bass, Graham Sharp on banjo and guitar, and Nicky Sanders on the fiddle.

Platt is the main lead singer. His voice is a baritone somewhat reminiscent of the timbre of country singer Alan Jackson. The boys sing very well together and they sport some very solid harmonies on this CD.

Stellar playing is also featured throughout the album, especially from Nicky Sanders’ fiddle. Sanders is quick, precise, and innovative. Many of his solos start as single note blasts that evolve into double stop brilliance. Guggino and Sharp add top notch mandolin and banjo respectively. 

The music contained on this CD is not exactly traditional bluegrass music, but more of a mix between bluegrass and folk. To critique this album as if it were a true bluegrass album would be unfair, however, even allowing for newness and progression, certain tenets apply to all music. Unfortunately, I find this project coming up short in some areas.

“Nobody Knows You” contains 13 songs, 12 of which are original compositions, including three co-writes between bassist Charles Humphreys and two non-band members.

Songwriting is an art in and of itself. Great players and singers are not always great writers and many young bands will write song after song after song before they come up with one that doesn’t SOUND like an original. It took a few listens to nail it down, but the songwriting is the key element that makes this effort fall short of the promise the band has shown in its young history.

For example, many of the tunes on this album seem to repeat themselves. It’s as if they start with a two minute song, play it twice and call it a four minute song. Mind you, most all popular music follows patterns, but when the same lyrics go by your ears two or three times in the same sequence, with the same musical accompaniment, one begins to wonder the reasoning. 

Also the majority of the music included on this album is minor key oriented. When used, minor keys have a tendency to create sad or dreary musical motifs. Gershwin’s song “Summertime” and The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” are both in minor keys.

While nothing is inherently wrong with sad music, when it is driven by an overall lack of inspiration as it apparently is here, the result can leave the listener uneasy, like you would feel if a bad actor tried to convey melancholy. When the notes themselves invite an emotional injection and little or none is given, the music remains one dimensional. 

The playing and singing on “Nobody Knows You” is technically good, but the compositions and arrangements are lacking and the overall mood of the recording is that of just another day at the office.

The Steep Canyon Rangers possess the talent to make some incredible music, and there are flashes of brilliance here, but the magic is just not contained throughout. I am awarding “Nobody Knows You” 3 of 5 Banjo Strings, and let’s all hope for a speedy recovery for this band and many years of great music ahead.


No comments:

Post a Comment

ALL comments are moderated and must be approved by the administrator of this blog. SPAM Comments, HATE Comments and general dis-respect will be ignored and deleted. Opposite opinion comments will be posted if presented in a polite and professional approach.

Subscribe Now: RSS Reader