Well, you all really seemed to enjoy our collaborative review style on Chris Stapleton’s album, and several of you suggested we keep doing it. We enjoyed it as well, so we’re back with a conversation about the debut album from Southern rock band The steel woods, Straw in the Wind. This one’s a little different in style and will reflect the style of most of these if we continue; Stapleton’s was track-by-track simply because it was so short–and also because we didn’t really know how well we could pull off such a thing. Any feedback on our style would be appreciated, as we’re still perfecting it, but we’re having fun with it, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we do. With all of that said, let’s get to Straw in the Wind.
Megan: One of the highest points on this whole record for me was the instrumentation. That’s what drew me in right away on the opener, “Axe.” On that song, it’s a nice mix of country and rock. You get hints of country, bluegrass, Southern rock, and blues throughout the album, but it’s always just fantastic.
Brianna: I completely agree on the instrumentation. They blend all these different genres seemingly without effort.
Megan: If you had to put this into one genre, what would you call it? I keep seeing them labeled Southern rock, but I’m not sure that explains all of it.
Brianna: I honestly don’t know if that’s possible to do. I mean, I do agree that Southern rock is the main thing. But they just take so many different styles and mix them up.
Megan: Yeah, and they do it so well, like you say, without effort. I think sonically, lots of people could find something to love about this album. What songs stood out most lyrically?
Brianna: Oh, “Straw in the Wind” is my favorite song here. It tells a dark story, and that was the one that hooked me on this album. Aside from that, I like the lyrics of “Better in the Fall,” which I took to be about a man loving the act of falling in love but being unable to keep the relationship alive after that. The imagery here was great. I also liked “Della Jane’s Heart,” although that one really reminded me of Turnpike Troubadours’ “Doreen.” I loved “Uncle Lloyd,” and how it talked about finding family to whom you aren’t related by blood. I also quite liked “If we Never Go.” It was a really simple song about two young people in a relationship needing to roam and be on their own away from family.
Megan: I completely agree on “Straw in the Wind,” which tells the story of a small town where travelers aren’t welcome, and what a line this is: “strangers ’round here disappear like straw in the wind.” also agree on “Della Jane’s Heart,” and that stylistically reminds me of Turnpike Troubadours as well–actually, it’s like bluegrass meets Red dirt. I think these two together make the strongest moment of the record. I’d also add “The Secret,” which has grown on me after a couple listens. It tells the secret that Satan was really a woman and not the serpent. The imagery here of a man, I presume Adam, “staring at a half-eaten apple” is on the cover, which adds to the darkness of this whole thing.
Brianna: That line from “Straw in the Wind” just sticks out above all the other lyrics on this album. I like the idea behind “The Secret” more than I do the actual song.
Megan: That’s true for me on quite a few of these songs, although not “The Secret.” There’s a vagueness in a lot of them, especially on the back half, that starts to drag the album down a little.
Brianna: Yes, and that’s the thing that really brings this album down for me. I like a song to be able to be whatever the listener makes of it, but when there are multiple instances of this, it grows tiresome. I believe the song “Whatever it Means to You” could have been a little nudge to say to the listener that the songs could mean whatever you think they do. Granted, I could be completely wrong about this, but putting in a song where you say “all that means is whatever it means to you” on a pretty vague album does tend to send that message.
Megan: Glad you mentioned that because that song really gets on my nerves. Basically, it lists a bunch of superstitions as well as signs of faith and says they mean nothing except what people make of them, and then says “all these songs” also mean only what you make of them. Lowest point on the album for me, along with “Hole in the Sky” and “Wild and Blue,” which are just forgettable filler. It doesn’t help that these three are right in a row either. actually, the song you mentioned, “If we Never Go,” is by far the best moment on the back half.
Brianna: Same for me, although I do have to mention the really cool harmonica play on “Wild and Blue.” It’s a classic song, but their version just didn’t stand out for me beyond the instrumentation. But yes, I definitely think “If we Never Go” was the best moment on that part of the album.
Megan: I didn’t know “Wild and Blue” was a cover, and I’ve literally just looked up the original, which is by John Anderson…difference: I actually like this song. You’re right, their version doesn’t stand out at all.
Brianna: Alan Jackson has a pretty good version on his bluegrass record, and that’s where I first heard the song. Compared to that, the version on this album is disappointing except in the instrumentation. That’s pretty much the way I feel about the remainder of the album too–disappointing and sometimes vague subject matter, but stellar instrumentation and good vocals.
Megan: Yep, I’d agree. NO other standouts besides the ones we’ve mentioned, but the vocals are incredible, glad you brought that up. Wes Bayliss is a fine vocalist. Instrumentation is very strong throughout. Some really great lyrical moments in here too, sprinkled among the vagueness. Overall, some filler on a 13-song album, but a really strong, promising debut from The steel woods. Nice, solid 8 from me.
Brianna: I would give this album an 8 as well. It has some filler moments as we’ve said, but also quite a few amazing ones. I can’t get the title track or “If we Never Go” out of my head. I am extremely impressed with the caliber of talent this band possesses, and despite the vagueness in some of these songs, I can’t give this album any less.
Collective Rating: 8/10