The SteelDrivers play Arden Theatre with an urban bluegrass vibe
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 06:00 am
Friday, Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $36. Call 780-459-1542 or purchase online at www.ticketmaster.ca
It’s a given that when iconic artist Adele adds one of your songs to her DVD, the industry respect skyrockets.
When the Grammy Award winner sang The SteelDrivers’ If It Hadn’t Been for Love the band’s “likes” on Facebook spiked and the sales jumped.
“It was a feather in our hat and nod to us as songwriters. And it certainly grew our fan base,” says bassist-vocalist Mike Fleming in a telephone interview from his Nashville home.
The bluegrass-honky-tonk-soul veterans last performed in the region at the 2009 Edmonton Folk Festival. They were a hit. On Friday, Oct. 25 they swing by the Arden Theatre for one of their gritty musical feasts.
In February, the band released Hammer Down, their third album since they started recording in 2007. Fans can expect more of what Fleming calls “uneasy listening” and by that he means songs of heartbreak, murder, alcohol and prison.
“We play songs with the artillery we have. The focus is about how we serve the song,” Fleming adds.
Each seasoned veteran has lived in Nashville for the last 20 years and cut their teeth in one of North America’s most competitive music scenes.
For the most part, Fleming along with bandmates Richard Bailey (banjo), Gary Nichols (guitar), Tammy Rogers (fiddle) and Brent Truitt (mandolin) are distinguished musicians that share equal duties as vocalists and songwriters.
The fivesome’s first self-titled CD was recorded live off the floor. One of the charts, Blue Side of the Mountain, was nominated for a Grammy. By the second album, Reckless the musical hadn’t changed a lot, but the band adopted a more sophisticated studio recording process.
But in between the second and third albums, founding member Chris Stapleton and Mike Henderson departed to pursue other creative projects. For Hammer Down the southern-soul steeped Gary Nichols stepped in and mandolin player Brent Truitt came on board.
“We never thought we could find someone with a similar approach to Chris, but we picked up Gary Nichols. Chris had a tenor voice, but he sang the blues like Travis Tritt and Greg Allman. His bluesy voice set us apart and with the original songs we wrote, people liked what we did.”
“Gary had done CMT Edge and he was going for a country career. His voice was uncanny. It sounded so much like Chris’. When he came to audition, he picked the hardest song we had at the time – Blue Side of the Mountain. He nailed it and blew us away. We said ‘Wow, he can really cut it.’”
Fleming goes on to explain that the unplugged songs in Hammer Down are spread out a little more even including a woman’s perspective. One of his favourites is I’ll Be There, a memory stalker-type tune enhanced by Rogers’ string line.
“It’s stellar. You have to listen to it. It’s the perfect meld of music and lyrics. The contents are spooky and the music is uneasy.”
Dark and poetic, The SteelDrivers are all about the urban vibe.
“Our name matches the way we play. We play very intensely. We can play it soft, but a lot of times we play with such intensity you’d think we might be plugged into electronic instruments, but we aren’t.”