He’s one of the best mandolin pickers in bluegrass, but save one solo effort, Adam Steffey’s only ever appeared on other artists’ records. He’s currently with Dan Tyminski’s band, but in the past he’s been a member of Alison Krauss & Union Station and Mountain Heart, as well as contributed to albums from artists as disparate as Michelle Shocked and Vince Gill. So Steffey’s due a few minutes in the spotlight, and he sure makes them count on One More for the Road. If this isn’t the year’s best bluegrass album, it’s because Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, and Chubby Wise have suddenly returned to Earth and formed the Undead Mountain Boys.
Here, Steffey is joined by some of the most talented folks in the bluegrass business, including Ron Block, Stuart Duncan, and Barry Bales, who is also one of the album’s producers. This dream team serves to complement Steffey’s incredible musicianship with their own none-too-shabby efforts, and the result is an absolute joy to listen to.
With a voice aged like Kentucky bourbon, Steffey’s vocals never reach the castrato heights favored by some bluegrassers, as evidenced on his version of Red Allen’s “Don’t Lie to Me”. But if for some reason you’re not fond of his voice, he enlists some of bluegrass’s finest singers on a trio of songs. Alison Krauss is her usual ethereal self on a loving cover of the Bluegrass Cardinals’ “Warm Kentucky Sunshine”. Outshining Krauss isn’t exactly the easiest thing to accomplish, but the golden-voiced Ronnie Bowman (a bluegrass artist who’s also written chart toppers for Kenny Chesney and Brooks & Dunn) does so on “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends”. Beautiful lyrics—it is, after all, a Kris Kristofferson song—and a stunning vocal turn from Bowman make the song exquisitely heartwrenching and a must-listen for anyone with even a passing fondness for country music.
Finally, Steffey’s current boss, Dan Tyminski, tackles string band standard “Let Me Fall”, accompanied by breakneck picking and a rowdy chorus of voices credited as “The Barnyard Playboys” (“Barnyard Playboy”, incidentally, is also the title of the album’s closing track, a rollicking instrumental). Rounding out the album are a handful of instrumentals, including public domain tune “Durang’s Hornpipe”, where Steffey is joined by his clawhammering wife Tina Steffey on banjo and guitarist Clay Hess (currently a member of Sierra Hull’s Highway 111).
There’s not a bum song on the album, but the best one is its title track. A song of regret and heartache, on “One More for the Road” the world-weary Steffey sings, “One more day and I believe I’d get it right / A lot less running and a little sleep at night / One more day to say that I apologize for every seed of trouble that I’ve sown / If I could have just one more for the road”, as Ron Block’s banjo plunks along like raindrops on a windshield.
Adam Steffey may be one of bluegrass’s most sought after session musicians, but here’s hoping he takes a few more turns in the spotlight sometime soon.
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// Notes from the Road
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