The debate about the value and validity of genre is never likely to be concluded especially where progressive and traditional ideals mingle in a musical environment. Of course, co-existence is not too much to ask for, even to the extent of cordial agreement where art has triumphed. Make no mistake the blueprint showed no sign of tinkering when the brakes screeched on this Steel Blossoms album sailing past as release date beckoned. The first track ached with a country sentiment, then the second, third and so on. Soon the realisation dawned that in the midst was a record rigidly stuck in the core of a genre and bursting at the seams with everything positive and alluring about it. Steel Blossoms are a dream come true for purists in 2019 and the net is widened to attract those not bound by rules, just hooked by a sound that exudes quality and absolute sincerity.
A few facts about Steel Blossoms: they are a core duo comprising of Sara Zebley and Hayley Prosser; hail from Pennsylvania, but like so many country artists are pursuing their dreams in Nashville. This self-titled record is in effect their third release preceded by an EP and a debut full length album. They are also the first signed artist to the newly formed Billy Jam Records.
Facts provide the skeleton, but the wealth found in ten songs delivers the soul. Everything is perfectly aligned to make this record one of both, instant and lasting appeal: delightful harmonies, fiddle and steel optimally applied, songs of a witty and cutting design, and a breath of fresh air to keep traditional country music relevant and vibrant.
Topics don’t stray far from the country music story book; the song titles hardly mislead. The clarity is stark, lyrics right to the point and profound messages abound. You will smile at ‘You’re the Reason I Drink’ (a strong opener is essential on a busy new music highway), wryly ponder the familiarity of ‘Trailer Neighbor’ (picking up on a theme previously exploited by Kacey Musgraves) and melt a heart at the plight of the character in ‘Heroine’ (a meaningful play on words).
A sassy female streak dominates the record in the true sense of the genre. ‘You Ain’t Sleeping Over’ and ‘Killed a Man’ leave little to the imagination. It is also not too difficult to picture the antagonists in ‘Innocent’, even if the starting point to the song pinpoints life in its most simple form free of any of the divisions laying in wake.
If there is one track straggling behind in the early life of this record, ‘Revenge’ probably fits the bill, but time is on its side to rise up the ladder. ‘County Line’ is a track given a media push, although I would personally put it in the middle of the pack. A pretty high performing pack mind you. ‘Pick Me Up’ is another mid placed track, though delightfully dancing to the tune of the album’s heartbeat. Joining an effective opener on a great record is an equally impressive closer. ‘Kentucky’s Never Been This Far’ does the Job for Steel Blossoms and no country record is a complete without a little name place checking joining the drinking, cheating, killing, loving and navel gazing pontification.
Karma was in full throttle to not let this record drift past. Being at the front of an album queue is no competition, but the earlier you arrive, the more time spent grappling with an exceptional record blasting a big hole in the year’s releases. Country music may or may not need saving, but as long as music like this Steel Blossoms album is made, the genre is in a safe place. Artistic credibility in tact without too much of a progressive agenda in place. The genre debate can be at least be temporarily shelved.