Bay Area singer-songwriter Wendy Burch Steel has been writing and performing for almost her entire life. While she taught herself to play guitar at age 11 and played in bands throughout the 1970s and 1980s, she has only recently released her first album. Open Wings, out now from Dragonfly Bridge Music, is an eleven-song collection which showcases Steel’s songwriting and heartfelt vocals.
Steel draws from bluegrass, folk, and blues influences on this album, which features six original songs alongside both traditional and more modern covers. The opening track, If I Had Wings, is a peaceful, folk-influenced song with nice electric guitar work from John Schott. Beau Fleuve (Beautiful River) finds Steel reflecting on her life since leaving her home in upstate New York. The song has an old-time feel thanks to banjo and fiddle from Laurie Lewis, who also served as a mentor for Steel and producer of this album.
Happy Song Blues has a nice bluesy groove built around the fiddle and bass. The liner notes state that Steel wrote this song in an effort to write just one happy song, but as bluegrass fans know, those aren’t always easy to come by. That’s reflected in the song’s chorus, with the line “I keep on trying to write a happy song, but my songs keep coming out this way.” If It Hadn’t Been for Love is another bluesy tune, reminiscent of The Steeldrivers’ original cut, but not quite as hard-hitting without Chris Stapleton’s growl.
Two of the more traditional songs on the album are a cover of Bill Monroe’s Walls of Time and the bouncy, midtempo 1960s country tune Sea of Heartbreak, which was also recently covered by Special Consensus. The traditional Gospel number Paul and Silas is performed a capella here, with a soulful feel and interesting four-part harmony.
Steel takes lead vocal duties throughout the album, and is joined by a wide assortment of musicians. These include Laurie Lewis (banjo, fiddle, and guitar), John Schott (electric guitar), Todd Phillips (bass), Patrick Sauber (banjo), and Tom Rozum (mandolin and guitar), among others. The overall style on this may remind listeners of Norah Jones’ solo work. While Steel does pull from the bluegrass repertoire, Open Wings seems to fall more in the singer-songwriter category, with hints of blues music throughout. For fans of Jones and other soulful female vocalists, Steel’s album should be an enjoyable addition to their collection.
For more information on Steel and her music, visit her website at wendyburchsteel.com.
Her album can be purchased from various online music retailers, including CDBaby and Amazon.