REVIEW: “Bad for You” by The SteelDrivers: Traditional Bluegrass with a Twist

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Bluegrass music has been around for a long time, and more than perhaps any other genre, has remained fairly consistent throughout the generations. That is perhaps due in part to the long line of bluegrass traditionalists. On the new album Bad for You (the follow-up to the band’s Grammy-winning The Muscle Shoals Recordings), The SteelDrivers show that even with traditional instrumentation, something a little different can be brought to the bluegrass table.

The interesting thing about the title track is that it pairs a traditional bluegrass melody with raspy, growled vocals that sound more typical for a rock band from Seattle. You can hear that sort of Seattle sound especially when Kelvin Damrel draws out the I when singing “I’m bad for you.”  You wouldn’t be wrong to describe this particular tune as grungegrass.

When there are so many songs about broken hearts and unfaithfulness, it’s refreshing to hear a song about a relationship that maintains its loving quality. “I Choose You” is a bright song powered by the Richard Bailey’s banjo, the fiddle by Tammy Rogers, and a bass line by Mike Fleming that is sure to get your toes tapping. The narrator sings about seeing love fall by the wayside while he himself sings, “I choose you every day in a hundred different ways.” Even if you’re not particularly sentimental, it’s hard not to be touched by this song.

On the flip side of that is “Glad I’m Gone,” which is as good a break-up song as you’ll hear. In this song, the narrator calls up his boys for a night on the town to celebrate the fact that his girl finally cut him loose. This one is propelled by a walking bass line as well as some great picking on the banjo and some fiddle that will get you dancing. An interesting thing about this song is the call and response between the banjo and guitar in the instrumental break.

“Innocent Man” is a song that features John Paul White on harmony vocals. This has a mournful sound about it, and is similar in mood to “Long Black Veil” by Johnny Cash. This tells the story of a man who was not convicted of any crime, but knows he’s not an innocent man. The banjo drives this song, but the fiddle and the mandolin by Brent Truitt add even more gravity to the sound.

This album checks all the boxes for traditional bluegrass from instrumentation to virtuoso performers. Damrel’s vocals bring an edge to the sound that makes it a little different than your grandpa’s bluegrass. Still, whether you’re a traditionalist or lean more toward newgrass, this is an album that you might just wear out. Bad for You will be available everywhere on February 7. Order your copy here.

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