Album Review of
One Dime At A Time

Written by Joe Ross
December 28, 2015 - 12:00am EST
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The bluegrass music of The Steep Canyon Rangers is similar to that being played by much more experienced and well-seasoned veterans. With the production assistance of Mike Bub and label support of Rebel Records, these guys are climbing the ladder to stardom quickly.  There’s always room for solid, young bands with traditional chops and original material. The band members have known each other for less than a decade, and they began as a band about 1999 while students at UNC in Chapel Hill. Since their debut album, their lineup has added Californian Nicky Sanders (fiddle, vocals). It was a smart move to have a permanent fiddler in the fold. The other band members are Woody Platt (guitar, vocals), Mike Guggino (mandolin, vocals), Graham Sharp (banjo, guitar, vocals), and Charles R. Humphrey III (bass). Now playing full-time since 2001, the band has been able to “cross-market,” representing the burgeoning bluegrass genre at venues and events that might not normally include this type of music. So, in a sense, the SCRs are amabassadors of bluegrass who are bringing a younger demographic to the music.  

Like their debut album on Rebel, this release has originals from Humphrey (“Ghost of Norma Jean” and “Restless Night”) and Sharp (“Waiting to Hear You Call My Name,” “Slow Burn,” I’ll Be Long Gone,” “Hold On,” “Big Cypoophus, “Green Eyed Lady, “Yesterday’s Blues”). They’re spirited and tastefully rendered in fine bluegrass style, both instrumentally and vocally. Lyrics are delivered with intensity and emotion. The picking is also immediately appealing. Why, Sharp even fingerpicks the guitar for the plaintive and bluesy “Green Eyed Lady.” Recording in a circle around a couple microphones, the band was able to capture their natural blend and intensity. The technique also illustrates how cohesive the band has become.

“The Ghost of Norma Jean” is a spooky tale that continues where “Norma Jean” from their last album left off. Many of their originals speak of pain, suffering and despair, mainly from love gone wrong. And keeping with that theme, the title track (written by Dottie Bruce and Jerry Chesnut) was originally recorded by country musician Del Reeves. Maybe they ought to consider some bluegrass covers of Del’s “Be Quiet Mind” or “Looking at the World through a Windshield” on a future project. Jason Carter adds the fine twin fiddling on “Evangeline.” A splendid showcase of their a capella quartet, “I Can’t Sit Down” was written by Wade Mainer.

The band had been thinking of doing a live album, but I’m glad to see this as a studio production. Their efficacy is built upon a foundation of power and strength.  Either live or in a studio, they successfully capture the bluegrass spirit. I’d eventually like to see an all-gospel project from The Steep Canyon Rangers. An award-winning group, they have all the necessary ingredients to make a significant long-term mark on the bluegrass genre. (Joe Ross)