BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Suffice it to say, the Steep Canyon Rangers are not your typical bluegrass band. Or your typical anything band for that matter. Nor are they simply another populist outfit that draws audiences with their dazzle rather than their dexterity. Indeed, it’s their combination of astute songwriting and deft instrumental interplay that make categorization within any single genre all but impossible. Their music veers towards a stylistic intersection where folk, country, rock and even jazz find clear compatibility.
Out in the Open, the band’s latest opus, is the band’s most fully realized offering yet, a seemingly improbable feat considering the excellence of so many of the albums that preceded it. Mostly on the soothing side, it’s populated by easy, rambling narratives boasting resolute yet sentimental sensibilities, and easily some of the finest songs Graham Sharp, the band’s primary tunesmith, has ever delivered. The tunes are of such a high quality in fact, that a rugged cover of the archival Dylan classic “Let Me Die in My Footsteps” finds an easy fit, as if it was penned along with the originals.
While the band’s instrumental dexterity still remains at the fore, the vocal harmonies supplied by every member of the band, save departed bassist Charles R. Humphrey III, have never been as prominent as they are here and now. While Sharp’s rich, resonant voice consistently comes to the fore, the vocal blend that illuminates such songs as “Out in the Open,” “Roadside Anthems,” “Can’t Get Home,” “Best of Me,” and the aforementioned Dylan tune play a prominent part in the mix. Producer Joe Henry manages to capture every nuance in the band’s multi-faced performance, creating something that ranks as a near classic of the genre, regardless of whatever genre the band delve into. Out in the Open defines the undefinable and gives it a new name… Steep Canyon Rangers.
DOWNLOAD: “Out in the Open,” “Can’t Get Home,” “Best of Me”