Celibate breeding ground For a local label that’s been largely on hiatus since October, Celibate Records seems to be getting quite a bit done lately.
The label’s most recent addition, Bro-9, will release their debut album, Auditory Condiments, later this month. And label-founding act Holiday Rd. plans a summer release for their sophomore effort, currently untitled.
Holiday Rd. will also be included on three upcoming compilation releases: the Misfits tribute album Too Much Horror Business, along with label mates Evilive; The PunkandJunk compilation Parentally Advise This, which will likewise include Bro-9; and the Utopian Records compilation Nonviolence or Nonexistence.
For more information on the label and its bands, visit www.holidayrd.com/celibaterecords.
Who: The Steep Canyon Rangers w/ Carolina Cotton
Where: The Grey Eagle
When: Friday, Feb. 21
The bass strikes first, emanating in a slow, heavy, acoustic wave you feel in your fingers and toes, up the back of your neck and in the pit of your stomach. It’s not a hard sound, not at all like the ear-throbbing tidal wave of low-pitched electric notes at a rock concert. No, this is different. You aren’t overwhelmed by it but simply, ever-so-softly, vibrated into it. And it’s that not-quite-subtle tap on the shoulder that draws your attention closer.
Then the mandolin starts in, its high-pitched pleas making the ensuing tonal contrast inescapable.
The Steep Canyon Rangers are not another gimmick-ridden newgrass band. Their music is wholly traditional, yet it manages to escape the feel of novelty and to stand on its own, as clear as a snow-fed mountain stream.
That said, the effect of the group’s tight technique — each player taking a quick turn at the mic, then deftly exchanging places in a seemingly well-rehearsed dance of quick solos — makes them a true team rather than a group of pals playing a haphazard back-porch jam session.
The five-piece Rangers favor rich arrangements, with each instrument complementing the others; the whole band serves the length of the song rather than barnstorming a section of it.
Their vocal arrangements show their finest teamwork. Though the key singer, guitarist Woody Platt, possesses an ideal bluegrass voice, it’s the harmonies he shares with the rest of the group that make their songs so effective.
Take the gospel-bluegrass tune “Country Baptizing,” which at the Grey Eagle show featured fiddle player Lizzie Hamilton singing lead and everyone but upright bassist Charles Humphrey III providing harmony. The arrangement was softly delivered, the playing almost understated, the varied parts meshing into an undeniably powerful, captivatingly beautiful performance.
Throughout the evening, the Rangers had the full attention of the vast majority of the crowd, barring a few stragglers in the bar. Their audience was largely young, with most members in their late-20s to mid-30s — an accomplishment in a scene that usually reserves its most enthusiastic approval for less-traditional bands (jamgrass breakouts Acoustic Syndicate come to mind).
By night’s end, and after a full two sets, the Steep Canyon Rangers had loosened up enough to let a few extended solos slip through. All five players can shine when they want to — in fact, the members swept their individual categories at last year’s Mountain State Fair, and the group itself won the fair’s bluegrass-band competition, allowing the Rangers to open for none other than Earl Scruggs. Yet it’s their seemingly egoless chemistry that makes them so likable.