The Steel Wheels
In the book Bluegrass for Dummies (the book doesn’t exist, but let’s pretend it does for a moment*) there is a chapter entitled, “How to become a bluegrass band.” Hail from an Appalachian mountain state like Virginia: check. Play acoustic instruments, specifically guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle and stand-up bass: check. Gather around a single condenser microphone and weave to and fro as the music dictates: check, and check. The Steel Wheels check all the boxes, but there is nothing by-the-book or predictable about their music. From their sinewy call-and-response instrumental lines to their effortlessly pure four-part harmonies, the music is bluegrass, but it’s also gospel, folk, country, blues, acoustic rock. Trent Wagler’s lead vocals are two parts gravelly blues yowl to one part '70s nasal classic rock, and his interactions with audiences are at different moments manic, menacing and demented. More important than labels, though, this is accessible, enjoyable, and damned entertaining music that has led to the band becoming a favourite with Calgary folk clubs. They’ll even throw in some Tom Waits and audience harmony singing as the set list allows. Bottom line: The Steel Wheels style will stymie and delight label-huggers in equal measure.
* There is a Bluegrass Banjo for Dummies, however