At first glance, Nashville four-piece The Steel Woods may seem like a chip off the ol' Skynyrd block. But you're just as likely to hear hints of Ricky Skaggs in the outfits' rollicking bluegrass rock as Southern rock heroes like Skynyrd or The Allman Brothers Band.
Lead singer Wes Bayliss' Southern fried vocal certainly fits among the long list of long-haired rebel rockers, but there's a certain subtlety to The Steel Woods you just don't hear in modern Southern rock. Much of that comes from the band's affinity for old country tunes. "I grew up on Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Led Zeppelin," says co-founder and guitarist Jason "Rowdy" Cope. Makes sense.
Zeppelin and Nelson, after all, borrowed early and often from blues and jazz. And with The Steel Woods, there's a certain undeniable lineage from the early days of Jimmie Rodgers and good old fashioned country murder tales. Which, by the way, The Steel Woods have.
But there's also a really strong modern understanding of pop structure and melody. You'll hear similar melodic twists and licks that made Taylor Swift a household name (like on "If We Never Go"). You'll hear a dark, heavy hard rock underbelly that took bands like Black Stone Cherry to the top of the current southern rock stratosphere ("Straw In The Wind").
There are even hints of Kenny Wayne Shepherd ("Let The Rain Fall"). Oh, and you'll hear a Black Sabbath cover (the face-shreddingly indulgent "Hole In The Sky"). Because why the hell not?
Sounds Like: All the fun parts of the bible sung by Southern rock revivalists graced by the deftness of bluegrass touch and the sensibility of modern melody.
Required Listening: "Let the Rain Fall Down," a dark and soulful southern story-song about being cursed with misery by a witchy woman.
Much of The Steel Woods' upcoming debut album Straw In The Wind focuses on narrative familiar to the Bible Belt: falling from grace. Songs like "The Secret" sing of temptation and original sin, while album opener "Axe" owns an ominous, uneasy sway like Poe's pendulum. There's nothing light about The Steel Woods. And yet the album maintains a strong understanding of simplicity and digestibility. Nobody gets too into themselves to veer the songs away from the whole point, which is the story.
The name The Steel Woods actually ends up making way more sense after you listen to the band. Because, let's be honest, sometimes people just pick a name and stick with it.
But there's a paradox in "the steel woods" that persists throughout the band's music. An earthy, grounded sound that can be sharp and cold like. Well, you get the point.
Check out The Steel Woods' new album Straw In The Wind, dropping May 19.