Making a smart Americana record in 2019 while staying true to the genre’s ethos is no simple task by any measurement, but for the wildly imaginative singing duo Steel Blossoms, the entire process seems to come all to easily, as they demonstrate in their new self-titled LP (due to be released this April). In songs like the album-opening “You’re the Reason I Drink,” the macabre “Killed a Man,” heavenly harmonious “Innocent” and evocatively stylized ballad “Revenge,” Sara Zebley and Hayley Prosser pull out the big guns and dispel the very notion that a modern Nashville band can’t dabble in various external influences without ultimately abandoning the identity of the scene. No matter where you look in this record, there’s something almost guaranteed to leave you begging for more of their soothing sound.
“Revenge,” “Heroine,” “County Line” and “Innocent” are some of the most brooding and emotional songs that I’ve ever heard from Steel Blossoms, both lyrically and instrumentally. In “Innocent,” Zebley and Prosser hang the harmonies high against a plaintive backdrop of acoustic guitar strumming, and though the words are conveyed in a melodic half-whisper, it doesn’t minimize the impact of the narrative in the least. “Heroine” explores the gritty subject matter of addiction with respect, and “Revenge” stands alone as the most provocative alt-country song that I’ve reviewed in at least the last six months, if not longer. Rip-roar groove tracks like “Pick Me Up” are lots of fun, but you could definitely make the argument that it’s the more personable balladry here that acts as the crown jewel of Steel Blossoms.
“Kentucky’s Never Been This Far,” “You Ain’t Sleeping Over,” “Trailer Neighbor” and “Killed a Man” are really tightly arranged from top to bottom, but they don’t overshadow the more relaxed compositional dispatches like “You’re the Reason I Drink,” “County Line” and “Innocent” even slightly. Both sets of tracks are equally cathartic, and even slower songs like “County Line” fashion a memorable hook that makes them attractive additions to any casual listener’s playlist. If Country Enough was a statement album about the band’s aesthetical make up, then Steel Blossoms is its sequel, and furthermore, an evolved take on their magnetizing tonality and multifaceted style of attack. They might have started off in Pittsburgh, but this duo is officially the hottest thing that’s happened to Nashville in a very long time.
Steel Blossoms is a fascinating must-listen for serious fans of Americana and alternative country who are looking for a fresh sound amidst the often predictable fodder promoted by the mainstream side of the dial. Next to Country Enough and the extended play Year Number One, this self-titled offering is a much more cohesive and flowing album that plays well regardless of the setting that it’s soundtracking, and in this age that has become riddled with records that are predominately constructed out of a filler and a handful of lively guitar licks, it’s as refreshing as a cool glass of lemonade on a hot summer’s day. Steel Blossoms are well on their way to reaching superstardom, and this album could go a long way towards getting them there all the sooner.