On February 7, 2020, The SteelDrivers will release Bad For You, their fifth studio album and the follow-up to their GRAMMY®-winning 2015 release The Muscle Shoals Recordings. The eagerly-awaited album features eleven new songs, ten of which were co-written by Tammy Rogers, whose spirited and soulful voice and fiddle playing have been a hallmark of the band’s hard-driving sound throughout its existence. It also marks the band’s debut recording with Kelvin Damrell, the singer and guitarist who joined the band in early 2018.
The album-opening title track, released today, churns slowly like a paddle-wheel steamer negotiating a shallow muddy river. Damrell’s voice rises and howls with poignant desperation, while Rogers’ fiddle carves lonesome answering lines, and the 15-year Steeldriver tradition of dark, jagged-edged goth-grass feels intact and heading for new places.
Then in “The Bartender (Load The Gun)” the main character wrestles with his role. Is he a friend-in-need or an accessory to a crime? It’s a question perfectly suited to the Steeldrivers’ unsparing blues. Up next, “12 O’Clock Blues” takes us inside the haunted anxiety of insomnia. Written by Rogers with longtime musical companion Kieran Kane and his duo partner Rayna Gellert, it became Damrell’s favorite for its groove shockwaves and its depiction of a shared human experience.
There are brighter offerings as well, including the pure ardor of “I Choose You” and the Cajun-inflected country bounce of “Glad I’m Gone.” Yet the emotional seriousness of the whole collection is firmly established by “Falling Man,” a song inspired by the breathtaking photo of an unidentified victim of 9/11 “caught in a frame” and thus made immortal. “I’ll never die/I’ll never land/Call me what I am/A falling man,” sings Damrell in his most vulnerable performance, with Rogers in sympathetic harmony.
Bad For You arrives after a period of triumph and adaptation. Shortly after their GRAMMY® win in 2016, guitarist and lead singer Gary Nichols decided to go his own way. The band momentarily hit pause while they considered their options, but ultimately decided that this setback was not insurmountable, and they launched the search for a lead singer. In a stroke of remarkable good fortune, Rogers’ daughter came across Damrell – a rock singer from Berea, Kentucky – on YouTube, and soon, he joined Rogers and longtime bandmates and friends Richard Bailey (banjo), Mike Fleming (bass) and Brent Truitt (mandolin) as the newest member of the group.
“I was pretty fresh to bluegrass,” Damrell says. “The only bluegrass I’d heard was couch pickin’ at my grandparents’ house, and I wasn’t into it, to be completely honest. I was a rocker. Cinderella was my favorite band before I met these guys.” But that kind of angular perspective was more in tune with The Steeldrivers than he could have known, and his initiation into bluegrass infused a convert’s zeal into his performances. “Everybody in the band was virtuosos,” he says. “And I’d never seen that side of bluegrass. I thought it was just that old foot-stomping traditional stuff, so I was surprised to hear this. And I knew I had a lot of work to do to keep up.”
That a quintet could sound so consistent over time, while adding new repertoire and even new lead singers, is a testament to the SteelDrivers’ mettle and resilience. As Rogers says with a shrug, “We all still love the music and wanted to continue, so what else were we to do but keep SteelDrivin’?”
The band has announced an extensive tour that kicks off in early February. They will preview material from Bad For You at a sold-out show at Nashville’s 3rd & Lindsley this Saturday, December 7. A full list of confirmed dates is below, and more shows will be announced in the coming weeks.
12/7 3rd & Lindsley, Nashville, TN
12/8 3rd & Lindsley Nashville, TN
2/6 Paramount Center for the Arts, Bristol, TN
2/7 Jefferson Center, Roanoke, VA
2/8 Modlin Center for the Arts, Richmond, VA
2/12 The Ark, Ann Arbor, MI
2/13 Lincoln Theatre, Columbus, OH
2/14 Manchester Music Hall, Lexington, KY
2/15 Paramount Arts Center, Ashland, KY
2/16 Culture Center Theater, Charleston, WV
2/20 Cherry Theater, Columbia, TN
2/21 Bijou Theatre, Knoxville, TN
2/22 Bijou Theatre, Knoxville, TN
2/26 One World Theatre, Austin, TX
2/27 The Kessler Theater, Dallas, TX
2/28 The Heights Theater, Houston, TX
2/29 Cactus Theater, Lubbock, TX
3/5 The Carolina Theatre, Durham, NC
3/6 Ovens Auditorium, Charlotte, NC
3/7 Charleston Music Hall, Charleston, SC
3/28 Spring Bluegrass Festival, Brooksville, FL
3/29 Florida Theatre, Jacksonville, FL
4/2 City Winery, Chicago, IL
4/3 Barrymore Theatre, Madison, WI
4/4 The Sheldon Concert Hall & Art Galleries, St. Louis, MO
4/16 Bichmere, Alexandria, VA
4/18 Port City Music Hall, Portland, ME
6/6 Buckhead Theatre, Atlanta, GA