Over the past several years, few bluegrass bands have reached the level of acclaim which the Steep Canyon Rangers have found. Much of it is due to their frequent association with Steve Martin, but just as much or more is that, simply put, they’re good at what they do. The band members are all very talented, and their material is consistently just a few shades different from anything else that’s going on in bluegrass.
Their last album, Nobody Knows You, earned the band a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. And their new release, Tell the Ones I Love, is a fitting follow-up, with a great mixture of today’s bluegrass styles, excellent harmonies, and a few surprises, as well.
The main surprise here is the addition of drums, courtesy of Jeff Sipe (formerly of Leftover Salmon) on several tracks. Of course, many bluegrass bands have been slowly adding in drums here and there since at least the 1950s, but it still is usually cause for a second listen. Camellia is one of those tracks, a fun love song with a ’70s southern groove and a nice instrumental interlude near the end. Stand and Deliver is another, with an almost-chanted delivery that stands out against the funky, fiddle-and-banjo-fueled groove. Both of these tracks are on the far side of bluegrass, and actually wouldn’t sound too out of place on a country-leaning album, but they’re definitely enjoyable – particularly thanks to Nicky Sanders’ inspired fiddling.