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Steep Canyon Rangers

This record is so well-executed, it begs the question: "Who are these guys?"

From the get-go, it's clear this is neither a traditional bluegrass group nor a bunch of super studs brought together to trade licks. Instead, what the Rangers are is an actual band. They are so comfortable and adept at anticipating every quick curve and turn in a tune, these songs manage to outshine their individual talents, which given the musicianship involved is no small feat. It comes as no shock, then, when the liner notes reveal this is the fourth album by this quintet, which has remained intact since they first got together in college.

Instrumentally, the fiddle, banjo and mandolin all take turns meshing together and filling spaces between the words, but it is lead vocalist Woody Platt's rhythm guitar that drives this CD and makes you forget there are no drums on what is essentially a very rhythmic recording. The singing is delivered with a passion that matches the accompaniment.

Almost all of the songs are original, with several making use of the requisite imagery for country, gospel and bluegrass. At the same time, the Rangers leave no doubt that they are part of a new generation of bluegrass bands. There is "Don't Ease Me In," a traditional arranged by the Grateful Dead. It's here you finally get the sense these guys have been listening to other things besides Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys. While the father of bluegrass may not have approved, when he hears this CD, he'll probably be tappin' his foot up in bluegrass heaven.

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