Steep Canyon Rangers, One Dime at a Time (Rebel Records): Four Stars
• Genre(s): Bluegrass
• You’ll like it if: You don’t mind bright-eyed lads plundering traditional bluegrass with remarkable ease.
• Defining song: “Green Eyed Lady” — At first, I expressed disappointment that it wasn’t a cover of the Sugarloaf staple. Dismay ebbed when this hushed original song revealed a band simultaneously capable of mighty chops and graceful eloquence.
It’s common for youth to deny tradition, citing a primal urge to lay claim to a new-fangled heritage. Young bluegrass outfits eagerly wield this approach, brandishing terms like newgrass, jamgrass, psychograss, and the newest enrollee, stankgrass.
However, the Steep Canyon Rangers kneel proudly at the mantle of tradition — though their relative youth still keeps things sounding fresh. The new album, One Dime at a Time (produced by former Del McCoury bassist Mike Bub), solidifies this old-but-new approach that’s become a tradition in itself. The songs (penned principally by band members Graham Sharp and Charles Humphrey III) seem like they were written when Bill Monroe was just beginning to understand the intricacies of picking.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings at the Orange Peel; Wednesday, Sept. 7: Five Stars
• Genre(s): R&B, Funk
• Be glad you stayed home if: You misplaced your soul last week.
• Defining moment: When Jones stepped out on stage for the first time after her eponymously dapper band warmed up the crowd. Her aura was electric, jolting every onlooker into dance moves that didn’t seem to exist before that evening. Even James Brown would have stooped to wipe her sweat.
Wednesday nights are usually a relaxing interlude before the weekend. However, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings made it seem like the last Friday on earth.
Jones borrows from Motown at its height, resurrecting those days for a modern crowd that craves the balm of that golden sound.
Her brilliant back-up band, the Dap-Kings, could all shine solo. Their buttoned-up stage garb belied the dirtiness they delivered: The Dap-Kings’ ouevre comes straight off a warm ’70s funk record that’s just shook off its dust. The band’s originals reworked the age-old woman-done-wrong formula, while covers were massaged to fit the charismatic Jones. Janet Jackson may have to turn the rights of “What Have You Done For Me Lately” over to the new diva. And Jones’ take on Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” added soul without sacrificing political intent.
It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced a stage presence as magnetic as hers — and the goosebumps I had for the whole show wouldn’t let me forget it.
[When he’s not bending readers to his will, Hunter Pope cooks, gardens, hikes and spends his mortgage money on CDs he’s never heard.]