This past Friday evening (10/19), The Steep Canyon Rangers played a show here in Roanoke, VA. I was familiar with their recordings, and caught a few brief sets at IBMA, but this was my first chance to see them live in an extended club concert setting.
They performed before a full house at the the 202 Market restuarant in downtown Roanoke, and just as when I saw The Infamous Stringdusters there earlier this year, the audience was composed of both old and young – Friday night clubbers, seious bluegrass lovers and hard core Rangers fans.
Over the course of three strong sets the band demonstrated their unique approach to the music, where the instruments are played in a traditional bluegrass style while the material owes as much to old time and blues as it does the bluegrass canon. The great bulk of their songs are written within the band, and most were taken from their most recent release, Lovin’ Pretty Women.
Each member of the group contributes to the band sound. Graham Sharpe’s banjo playing is powerful and inventive, whether the style calls for a bluegrass, old time or blues feel. Mandolinist Mike Guggino’s mastery of the Monroe style is always in evidence, and Woody Platt’s vocal delivery and guitar work manages to be both unorthodox and appropriate at the same time. Charles Humphrey excels on bass, whether he is providing accompaniment or taking a solo, and his dead pan delivery as an emcee is dead-on in fronting much of their show.
But it was fiddler Nicky Sanders that kept my attention the bulk of the time. He represents one of the rarer species in and around bluegrass music: a player with the technique and virtuosity of a conservatory-trained performer, but who has also captured the soul and authentic feel of traditional string music. He is a joy to watch, and though The Steep Canyon Rangers would offer a compelling performance without him, he adds an element that completes the package in a most appealing manner.
You can find their complete tour schedule on the band’s official web site.