There's no shortage of Southern rock bands following in the revered boot steps of The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd, but the Steel Woods are honoring those forefathers while blazing their own trail. Raised on equal parts Appalachian mountain music, gospel and Zeppelin, the Nashville-based band is the perfect blend of hard-driving, gritty Southern rock and intimate country storytelling.
Since the release of their 2017 debut album Straw in the Wind, the band has opened for Miranda Lambert, Cody Jinks, Blackberry Smoke, Jamey Johnson and more. Now the foursome is gearing up to release their sophomore album Old News, which Wide Open Country is premiering today.
"Every night I went home and ate mom's food -- really getting rooted. A lot of these songs are very rooted in my life," Cope tells Wide Open Country. "I was kind of soaking up that Appalachian air."
Cope says Old News is a reflection of how he and his bandmates, Wes Bayliss, Jay Tooke and Johnny Stanton, have grown as a unit after countless hours on the road enduring, as he puts it, "bus fires and flat tires."
"The first album was very much me and Wes (Bayliss) going in and trying to figure things out with a vision. After that Johnny and Jay came along and we spent countless hours on the road playing together," Cope says. "We grew as musicians together and we went into Echo Mountain as a unit and laid the tracks down as a live band."
The album kicks off with the rollicking "All of These Years," a down-and-out blues rocker that showcases lead vocalist Wes Bayliss' powerhouse voice.
"God help us all in our search for truth/ Nothing makes you old like holdin' on to you," Bayliss sings in a soulful wail. "What keeps me young and long in the tooth is a lot of blood, a lot of sweat and a little bit of the blues."
The band delivers an anthem for current times with "Old News," a call for a return to discourse and freethinking. Cope says he wrote the song after watching the evening news.
"I flipped between two news stations and it was just bad news. A lot of people were throwing rocks at each other -- metaphorically, just a lot of people throwing stones at one side to the other side. I just thought 'Man, one of the things that's lost in this country nowadays is the concept of debate.' That was something that was really prided in our colleges in former years," Cope says. "You would be given the task of having to debate that side and the other (side) would do the same so that you would learn and grow. That just seemed lost in this generation. Literally, I wrote that song right there on the spot. It took me about 30 minutes on my sister's guitar."
The group ponders mortality on the stunning "The Rock That Says My Name."
"Well I ain't afraid to die 'cause I know where I'll go/ There I'll live forever on the streets made of gold," the band sings. 'Til then I'll keep on working, you won't hear me complain/ And everyday I'll tip my hat to the rock that says my name."
The album's final moments find the band honoring the music legends who've passed on in the last few years. Cope says the placement of the record's cover songs was no accident.
"The concept of the album was to be based on 'old news' like a newspaper and the last four songs are the obituaries," Cope says. "We wanted to pay tribute to them."
Late country singer Wayne Mills, who was murdered in 2013, is remembered with his song "One of These Days," while Merle Haggard is honored with a faithful cover of "Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver)." A mighty cover of "Whipping Post" serves as a reverent send-off to Southern musical icon Gregg Allman. The album ends with what is essentially a hymn for anyone who grew up south of the Mason-Dixon line: Tom Petty's "Southern Accents." The powerful rendition of the tune is another testament to the Steel Woods as torchbearers for a new generation of Southerners raised on rock, country, soul and everything in between.