The Blue Ridge-bred The Steel Wheels are a rhyme you can’t quickly forget. Hailed by country music blog 9513 as "forces to be reckoned with," The Steel Wheels—Brian Dickel on upright bass, Jay Lapp on mandolin, Eric Brubaker on fiddle, and Trent Wagler on vocals—transcend their sing-song name with Red Wing, a 14-track blues, bluegrass, and soul-stomping tour-de-force.
It’s an effort heavily immersed in nature. Instrumentals "At Long Last," "Dragging Your Heels," and "Second of May" echo sounds of the Shenandoah, where the Wheels brought Red Wing to life. The muted title track, somber "Walk This Way for Awhile," and almost-acapella "Hymn for the Unsung" sing the sway of the valley’s branches and leaves.
"Take a Picture, Lose Your Soul" plays with superstition, turning cliché into a candid tale. It’s a different direction: Brubaker’s fiddle whines behind Wagler’s staccato vocals, urgent. The tenth track, "Long Way to Go," furthers that frenzy and plants the seed for "Surround Me." Red Wing’s clear gem, this part gospel, part soul track calls to a lover, showcasing the band’s airtight harmonies in its midst.
The imperative "Dance Me around the Room" and list-of-what-ifs closer, "Working on a Building," boil the disc down to its roots. For The Steel Wheels, they’re the kind of roots worth keeping.
Red Wing is out now on Shut Eye Records.