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Steep Canyon Rangers
Deep In The Shade Review By Steven Stone
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  Fresh from their ongoing stint as Steve Martin’s touring back-up band, the Steep Canyon Rangers display a unique combination of classic and contemporary bluegrass style on their latest release, Deep In The Shade. As photogenic as any pop boy band yet as musically accomplished as the most grizzled good old boys, the Steep Canyon Rangers may well be the next big super-star bluegrass band.

Deep In The Shade is the Steep Canyon Rangers’ second release. Their first, Lovin’ Pretty Women, garnered a nomination for “album of the Year” at 2008 IBMA (International Bluegrass Musician’s Association) awards. The band has been together for ten years. They formed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, when they were students at the University of North Carolina. Since then the Rangers have played at every major bluegrass festival, The Grand OlOpry, and even on the jam band concert circuit. The band’s roster consists of Woody Platt on guitar and lead vocals, Graham Sharp on banjo, Mike Guggino on mandolin, Charles R. Humphrey on bass, and Nicky Sanders on Fiddle.

Ten of the twelve songs on Deep In The Shade are originals. Graham Sharp penned six, Charles R. Humphrey wrote three, and Nicky Sanders contributed one. My two favorite originals are Humphrey’s waltz “Shades of Gray,” which is a break-up song that displays a pleasantly ambiguous view of modern relationships. Its lyrics are certainly a healthy change from Bill Monroe’s stalker songs. Graham Sharp’s tune, “Have Mercy,” which opens the album, has a sprightly two-step pacing coupled with a catchy chorus. I’m sure it will get lots of airplay on bluegrass radio stations and may even be in the running for IBMA’s “Song of the Year” nominations – it is that good. For those who love smokin’ fiddle tunes, Nicky Sanders’ “Mourning Dove” features hot mandolin and banjo solos tucked between Sanders’ own incendiary fiddle breaks.

The two covers on Deep In The Shade demonstrate the band’s wide-ranging musical tastes. Many folk groups covered “Sylvie” by Paul Campbell and Huddie Ledbetter, in the early 60’s. The Rangers do it a capella with spot-on three part harmonies. The other cover, Merle Haggard’s “I Must Be Someone Else You’ve Known,” sounds so perfect in the Ranger’s bluegrass arrangement that I wonder why another bluegrass band hadn’t thought of doing it before.

The Steep Canyon Rangers combine wit, urbanity, musicianship, and youthful energy in a well-arranged package that reminds me of the Hot Rize band early in their career. Like Hot Rize, the Steep Canyon Rangers are going to be big ‘ol bluegrass stars.

 

 

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