Nashville’s hard-edged quintet, The SteelDrivers, released their fifth studio album (here is our review of it). After an era of transition and multiple setbacks, The SteelDrivers have come back swinging with ‘Bad For You.’
Since ‘The Muscle Shoals Recordings’ in 2015, much has changed with the dynamic of the band. The record debuts their third lead singer in ten years. After being discovered by the group on YouTube, Kentucky-native, Kelvin Damrell, stepped in as lead singer in 2018. The only knowledge of Bluegrass he possessed at the time was front porch pickin’ he heard at his grandparents’ house.
Behind The SteelDrivers 3.0 is twenty-five-year-old lead vocalist, Kelvin Damrell, bassist Mike Fleming, mandolin player Brent Truitt, fiddle player Tammy Rogers, and banjo player Richard Bailey.
Written entirely by the group’s lone female, Tammy Rogers, ‘Bad For You’ introduces new storylines and slants that impart a different feel than previous records. However, Rogers’ intentionality in maintaining the niche edge of the band resulted in an album steeped SteelDrivers tradition. The tracks push traditional genre boundaries and radiate the resilience of the group. As a founding member of the band, Rogers feels this record is her way of carrying on the tradition of The SteelDrivers.
“It was certainly daunting to think about the history of the SteelDrivers, and how important our song catalog has become over the years,” Rogers admits. “I had some immense shoes to both fill and follow.”
The first two albums were born of the work of founding members, Chris Stapleton and Mike Henderson. The next two albums following Stapleton and Henderson’s departure combined Gary Nichols’ Alabama influence with Tammy Rogers Nashville catalog. When Nichols decided to part with the band as this fifth record began to come together, Rogers stepped up to the plate.
“Being in the band from the beginning, I knew the character so well and wanted to maintain that edge and persona,” Rogers shares. “With the help of my great co-writers, many of whom had a long-standing relationship with the band, I was able to keep our commitment to writing our own material.”
Rogers has a personal connection to each song she wrote for this record.
Inspired by her teenage daughter’s first heartbreak, Rogers wrote: “When A Heart Breaks.” The soulful track is timeless breakup ballad she feels will always bring her daughter, and the listeners, back to sixteen. “12 O’ Clock Blues” brings to life her struggle with insomnia. Previously released single, “I Choose You,” was immediately adopted by fans, known as “SteelHeads.” Rogers shared they have already had many requests to use it as a wedding song.
From a lyrical standpoint, Rogers is most proud to share “Falling Man.” The heart-wrenching story told from the perspective of a 9/11 volunteer and inspired by the photo from the Associated Press of a man jumping from the top floors of the World Trade Center. Devastation vibrates from the strings. The solemn sound sets the tone for the vocals.
“I’ll never die, I’ll never land/ Keep me alive/ Call me what I am, a falling man,” Damrell sings. “Septembers will come, Septembers will go/I’ll still hear the voice of 3,000 souls.”
“Innocent Man” follows a wrongful conviction chronicled in John Grisham’s book of the same title. Grammy Award-winning songwriter John Paul White collaborated in the production and harmony of this encapsulating song.
The buoyancy of single, “I Choose You” and the bounce of low-country anthem, “Glad I’m Gone,” contrast in a familiar way with Blues-drenched, “Forgive” and “The Bartender.” The Rock n’ Roll behind Damrell’s voice elevates a group that is beloved for blurring genre lines.
‘Bad For You’ was Damrell’s opportunity to establish himself as a ‘Driver. Rather than just adapting to sing the iconic songs written previously by Stapleton or Henderson, he could put his unique spin on their sound.
Rogers expressed that she intentionally stepped back a bit to let him be more involved. Damrell rose to the occasion, weighing in on what the band ultimately selected to record.
“I’m so glad the guys in the band believed in me enough to support me through the writing process,” expressed Rogers.
Listen to ‘Bad For You’ from The SteelDrivers here. The album is out everywhere today.