With their successful collaboration with comedian, actor and pretty good banjo picker Steve Martin garnering the Steep Canyon Rangers much attention over the past two years, some might think the band's own music would take a back seat or at the least get overlooked. Judging from the band's new Martin-less disc, that would be a mistake.
SCR was a great band before hooking up with Martin, and the new album picks right up where they left off on their last album - making traditional-sounding yet wholly original and contemporary bluegrass. Like Blue Highway, SCR can infuse some seriously chill-inducing tones into almost any narrative; Rescue Me fits that bill nicely here with an upbeat yet dark and desperate sound, while Between the Midnight and the Dawn introduces some opposing yet intertwined vocal lines that are almost jarring at first.
Even though the material is all their own, the band bows to traditional sounds throughout their work. As I Go takes on a couple different traditions, with the broad vocal harmonies of the a capella opening yielding to a breakneck-paced sing-along reminiscent of Rocky Top. They tackle a James King-style story song on Ungrateful One, and even flirt with country music on Summer Winds and the appropriately titled Open Country.
Contrary to this album's title, everybody knows Steep Canyon Rangers these days through their Grammy winning partnership with Steve Martin. It's nice to see (and hear) that they can still put together a fine program on their own, too.