Steep Canyon Rangers
The Steep Canyon Rangers were destined for greatness. Their dedication to the music shows in every note they play, but it’s the band’s amazing songwriting talent that makes them truly exceptional. While firmly rooted in the bluegrass tradition, their ability to bring in elements drawn from hard core honky-tonk, classic country and the blues sets them apart from the rest of the pack.
While the band’s fierce commitment to the music’s traditional audience is obvious, they’re also dedicated to bringing the music to the next generation of fans. They have taken bluegrass to rock clubs, jam band festivals and other non-traditional venues, winning new converts at every turn. The Rangers – Graham Sharp, banjo, lead and harmony vocals; Woody Platt, guitar and lead vocals; Charles R. Humphrey III, bass and harmony vocals, Mike Guggino, mandolin and harmony vocals and fiddler Nicky Sanders – are young, ambitious men. Their constant touring, intense rehearsing, and most importantly, their creative songwriting sets them apart from the field. In a genre cluttered with young bands, it’s the Steep Canyon Rangers that are the future of bluegrass music.
On One Dime At A Time, the Rangers emerge with their own distinctive approach to bluegrass, one that honors the music’s traditional sound while taking a giant step in a style and direction all their own. The album was recorded live in the studio with first time producer Mike Bub, long-time bass player for the Del McCoury Band. The group credits Bub for his aid in shaping the arrangements, sharpening the vocals, and getting a live feel in the studio. “We all gathered in a circle around a couple of microphones,” Graham Sharp said. “No separate booths, no headphones, no separate tracks. You can really hear the natural blend of our instruments and voices.”
As on previous albums, most of the material on One Dime At A Time was written by the band. “The Ghost of Norma Jean” by Charles Humphrey is a sequel to the gruesome “Norma Jean” from the Rangers’ last album. Humphrey’s “Restless Nights” is straightforward, hard-hitting and full of emotion, another in the long line of bluegrass heartbreak songs. Graham Sharp’s “Slow Burn,” reminiscent of a George Jones number, demonstrates the close relation of country music and bluegrass. And speaking of country music, the title track, by Dottie Bruce and Jerry Chesnut, comes from a Del Reeves recording that the band heard on the radio during a long ride between gigs. The group loved the song’s bluesy, honky-tonk feel and was surprised to find that nobody has ever recorded it as a bluegrass tune. The Rangers heard The Sullivan Family’s version of “Evangeline” at a festival in North Carolina and felt it fit right into their repertoire. The Del McCoury Band’s Jason Carter joins Sanders for an exquisite twin fiddle performance. The Robbie Robertson penned tune was originally recorded on The Band’s historic Last Waltz album. The spiritual “I Can’t Sit Down,” written by Wade Mainer, was recorded a cappella and really showcases the Rangers’ vocal harmony and arranging talents. (The 98 year old Mainer, incidentally, was a big influence on the legendary Ralph Stanley). The lone instrumental, “Big Cypoophus,” shows off the bands top flight picking skills. Simply put, there’s not a weak track on this album; it’s real music played by real musicians in real time, full of the genuine feeling and sparkling musicianship that marks the best of bluegrass bands.
Although there are no overnight success stories in the field of bluegrass, the Steep Canyon Rangers have come a long way since turning professional in 2001. Sharp, Platt and Humphrey met while they were at the University of North Carolina, drawn together by their love of acoustic music. As their impromptu jams progressed, they were drawn more and more to bluegrass and started learning the genre’s classic tunes. Mike Guggino, a friend of Platt’s, joined shortly thereafter and the band started gigging regularly. Since none of them had ever been in a band before, they felt free to blaze their own path, generating most of their own material and creating a style all their own. By the time they graduated, they were booking enough gigs to eschew the 9 to 5 life and become full time musicians. Their first three albums Old Dreams & New Dreams, Mr. Taylor’s New Home and The Steep Canyon Rangers (their first for Rebel) all combined carefully chosen covers with ten or more originals by band members. One Dime At A Time follows their winning formula with another collection of diverse, mostly self-penned material guaranteed to please long time fans and introduce younger listeners to the high, lonesome sound of bluegrass, one of America’s most unique art forms. The sound is traditional but the Steep Canyon Rangers have put their own unmistakable mark on the music.