In a solemn streak of a melody, the fiddle that introduces us to Steel Blossoms’ “Revenge” slices through the remains of “You’re the Reason I Drink” and reverberates into the ethers for what feels like an eternity. After nearly twenty seconds of increasing the tension all around us, the strings are met with an icy vocal track that immediately provokes every hair on the back of your neck to stand straight up. In this song, as with all ten of the tracks in Steel Blossoms’ self-titled LP, producer Jerry Salley extracts every drop of moodiness from the harmonies between Sara Zebley and Hayley Prosser and presents their sound devoid of any barriers that could come between us and the rousing narratives it contains.
Steel Blossoms isn’t built around its bold balladry alone; the righteous rhythms in “Trailer Neighbor,” “Pick Me Up,” “Killed a Man” and “You’re the Reason I Drink” are sensationally rich with genuine textures that are as bright as a rising sun. The drums are alive with a ferocious vitality in “Pick Me Up” and create a backdrop of black and white grooves that Zebley and Prosser will color with their mighty melodies, and in “You’re the Reason I Drink,” fans of self-aware alternative country music will find a new champion in this band and their extraordinarily poignant poetry.
“County Line” and “Heroine” are executed with a conservative approach to the vocal, but they fit in with the looser “You Ain’t Sleeping Over,” “Trailer Neighbor” and “Pick Me Up” just fine. Steel Blossoms are the sort of act that possesses as much duality in their sound as they do charm in their lyricism, but we never get a sense that they’re struggling to reconcile the two aspects of their artistry in this record. They sound cool, calm and collected even in more aggressive tracks like “Killed a Man,” and never come off as even slightly hesitant in their delivery.
There’s nothing overindulgent about these songs, nor the manner in which they were arranged in the tracklist. Through the efficiency of the master mix, the vocals that Prosser and Zebley are building their entire careers around are always dead-center in the spotlight, and every other component in the music is designed to accommodate the enormous amount of space that they occupy in each composition. Something tells me that these two young women would sound good singing us the front page of the news, but at the same time, you just can’t top the vivacious verses that they lay down in “You Ain’t Sleeping Over” and “Innocent.”
2019 has been a really exciting year for Americana and alt-country, and consequently, I’ve heard a litany of intriguing records out of Nashville and countless other scenes around the nation, but Steel Blossoms is engaging us on another level all together here. Every working part in these songs is affecting us in this record; the fiddle, the guitars, the drums, the vocals, even the production hand of Jerry Salley. Steel Blossoms are back and better than ever with their latest release, and it’s one of my favorites that the spring has had to offer.