The Steeldrivers – “Can You Run” (2010)

The Steeldrivers – “Can You Run” – Reckless (Rounder, 2010)

As far as I’m concerned, Nashville’s Steeldrivers are the finest neo-bluegrass group on the planet right now. Blending the literary songwriting of Mike Henderson (who sadly left the band at the end of last year) with the masterful musicianship of bluegrass/country veterans, fiddler Tammy Rogers, bassist Mike Fleming, and banjoist Richard Baileyand, as well as the soulful vocals of Chris Stapleton (now replaced by Gary Nichols), the Steeldrivers create virtuostic songs focused on Southern life past and present.

“Can You Run” is an especially haunting tune, as it centers on a young man who is a slave during the Civil War. The song is about desire to escape. He pleads with his wife that they should run to the Union line before daylight, where they can find freedom and aid in the cause of liberation of their people. Feeling the time may never come again, the young man is especially anxious to both escape the chains his family is bound in and assert his personhood by fighting alongside the Union soldiers. The lines literally send chills down your spine, witness the chorus:

“Can you run, to the freedom line of the Lincoln soldiers?

Where the contraband can be a man

With a musket on his shoulder

I’ve got to stand up tall before I’m done

Wrap these hands of mine around a gun

And chase the taste of bondage from my tongue

Can you run?

Can you run?”