With insanely catchy southern rock, pop sensibilities, and rootsy bluegrass numbers, it's clear that Steel Wood's have found their musical identity on their sophomore album. Recorded in Nashville the songwriting team of Wes Bayliss Jason 'Rowdy' Cope and the band completed their first recording months after they met. Their first album, Straw in the Wind, overflows with the enthusiasm of a duo eager to make their mark in outlaw country circles and make their voice heard. Their talent as a songwriting partnership was evident, and their recherché spark hits you from the off.
Old News is more refined but carries the embers of the previous work. If anything their sound is more honed this time and stokes the groundwork they laid in 2017. Their timeless blend of southern blues, rock, R&B, gospel, country and folk may appear to be a broad spectrum of genres, but when you consider that they mostly originated from the same style, it's not too far of a leap.
Lyrically they manage to weave modern interpretations on age-old subjects and social issues, making sure that their songs content is just as relevant as their sound. In among the blue-collar, everyman vocals and gutsy guitars you'll find a haunting thread that runs through the album. So much, so that death and mortality stand behind you like a scavenging Grim Reaper for most of the record.
The Rock That Says My Name is typically Americana, honouring everything the American dream holds dear also encompasses the God-fearing narrative that runs through country music. Anna Lee is pure bluegrass and the final four songs on the album pay tribute to artists who have passed away: Tom Petty, Merle Haggard, Gregg Allman and singer-songwriter Wayne Mills. This metamorphosis from life to death is, of course, echoed in their varied musical output, but also through a cover of the Black Sabbath track, Changes. They manage to slot in this track with ease alongside the other material; so seamless is this inter-splicing that you'd hardly even recognise it as being one of heavy metal's finest ballads.
Elsewhere on the album things maintain a serious overtone even if the music is rocky and upbeat. Blind Lover envisions Martin Luther King's world where we see character over colour. It's repeated with a mantra like chorus that gets into your soul. Old News talks of the resilience of the American spirit even in a post-Trump world which has the nation divided. The songs speak of hope, humanity and the enduring nature of the human spirit.
The album is rooted in American history but has modernity to it, reflecting art and society and ultimately ourselves. Steel Woods have shown themselves to be an Americana band of total integrity who have stayed true to the history of the genre and laid the foundations for the future.
Groupie Rating 4/5