Bluegrass and beyond, The Steel Wheels get personal

The Steel Wheels rolled out an Americana classic, “Everyone a Song Vol. 2” on Nov. 5.

The Steel Wheels roll with worthy purpose here, on the mountain air steam generated by singer-songwriter-banjoist Trent Wagler, mandolinist-guitarist Jay Lapp, violinist Eric Brubaker, bassist Brian Dickel, and Kevin Garcia laying down drums, percussion and keyboards. All but Garcia sing in harmony. But it’s Garcia’s contributions that add several of the elements that carry this music beyond the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia hills it was born in, to the lush territory to which it travels.

“Everyone a Song Vol. 2” was inevitable; the first set presented such a charming, novel concept. With the pandemic affecting everyone, the band solicited personal stories from their supporters, to which Wagler wrote affecting lyrics that The Steel Wheels then adorned in glorious song. These nine further demonstrate the band’s huge, collective southern heart, exceptional talents, and easy ability to entertain and make an impact with voices, wood, steel and skins.

Cut completely remotely, there’s solid cohesiveness to the album. Each instrument and voice glistens, highlighting human connection on a variety of levels. Flourishes of guitar, fiddle and mandolin blossom to ignite the steady beat behind “Where I’m From,” a strident love story about, of all things, a Catholic church in Chicago. Setting religion and scandal aside, it focuses on the comforts of the historic space as a community home, and as a symbol of stability (if you let it) in the face of so much laissez-faire thinking. It’s a catchy, powerful opener.

The headstrong beat and washes of fiddle in “Time is All I Need” align with the attitude and the gratitude of a woman romantically pursuing the co-worker that became her spouse. A love story of a different sort, it even features cool Motown vocalizing by Lapp. “Memories in Mind” derives from a daughter’s thoughts in tribute to her dad. As the father of four ladies myself, the deep feeling of it hits home, while the Everly Brothers-classy melody hits a home run. “Adventures of Grace and Mary” then brings to life a lady’s thoughts for, and about, her grandchildren, born and raised when the world shut down. Meticulous, golden bluegrass supports its messages of love, encouragement and thankfulness.

The Steel Wheels are certainly not the first band to use bluegrass music as a springboard to dive into a rainbow of possibilities, but they are certainly among the best that do. “Everyone A Song Vol. 2” features beautiful, contemporary American songs for, and in part by, fans old and new.

Tom Clarke               

  • The Steel Wheels
  • ‘Everyone a Song Vol. 2’
  • Label: Big Ring Records
  • Release: Nov. 5, 2021

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 25 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, Los Lobos, and the Allman Brothers Band and its ever-growing family tree. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Kudzoo, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen have raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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