Not many people can claim to be multi-IBMA award winners; even fewer have nine Mandolin Player of the Year trophies sitting at home. Adam Steffey, currently of the Boxcars and formerly of Alison Krauss and Union Station, as well as several other top bluegrass groups, has influenced countless musicians with his modern traditional brand of playing. With his latest solo release, however, he takes a bit of a break from the bluegrass style he has perfected. The music Steffey presents on New Primitive is fresh old-time taken to another level – a mixture of familiar tunes and more obscure ones, all from the public domain and all given Steffey’s distinctive touch.
The album opens on an upbeat note, with Tina Steffey’s energetic clawhammer banjo intro to Johnny Don’t Get Drunk. Tina (Adam’s wife) duets nicely with Adam’s mandolin throughout the tune. New Five Cent Piece is another uptempo tune, certain to have dancers on their feet. Barry Bales’ bass provides a solid backbeat for this traditional fiddle tune. Big Eyed Rabbit should also please flatfooting fans, though Zeb Snyder gives it slightly more of a bluegrass influence with his guitar playing. It’s always fun to hear the lyrics of old songs like this, and fiddler Eddie Bond does a fine job conjuring old-timey mountain music with the vocals here.
Fans of Steffey’s mandolin stylings should enjoy Ways of the World, a stripped down mandolin instrumental, and Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom, both of which showcase his stellar playing. The latter tune may be a bit of a surprise for bluegrass fans familiar with the Tony Rice version of Blackberry Blossom, but this one is a different tune, sharing little but a name with the other. These two tunes definitely have more of a bluegrass feel than some of the other songs, as does Goodbye Girls I’m Going to Boston.
Squirrel Hunter, another tune which will likely be familiar to bluegrass fans, is done well, with a great fiddle/banjo opening from guest Samantha Snyder and Tina Steffey. Samantha is also featured on Who Will Sing Me Lullabies, a tender piece which finds the singer wondering who will be there for her now that her heart is broken.
New Primitive is certainly not the driving contemporary bluegrass which Steffey is often known for, but it’s not strictly ‘authentic’ old-time music, either. Steffey has successfully blended the two, creating an album which should please fans of both genres. This is helped in no small part by his supporting band, which is neatly split between fantastic old-time musicians Tina Steffey and Eddie Bond, bluegrass notable Barry Bales, and the Snyders. Steffey takes care of all the mandolin, and though he is also known for his distinctive vocals, he leaves the singing to others here. In a recent interview with Mandolin Café, he mentioned that his singing is more suited for plagues, natural disasters, and murder ballads than the style of tunes here.
For more information on Adam Steffey, visit his website at www.adamsteffey.com. His new album can be purchased from his website, as well as several online music retailers.