It’s difficult to not look at the songs off of The Steel Woods latest record, All Of Your Stones, with added scrutiny after the sudden death of co-founder/guitarist Jason “Rowdy” Cope in January. The album, the band’s third, and easily their finest moment yet, is bookended by two unusually powerful tracks. “Out of the Blue,” penned by Cope and Aaron Raitiere addresses head on his struggles with PTSD and finally breaking through: “I’ve Seen Red, I’ve seen white/I’ve seen death, I’ve seen life/But I never saw myself coming through/I’ve finally come out of the blue.” Delivered over the band’s deftly perfect Southern Rock/Blues mix, those life-affirming lines are that much more tragic now that we know how the story ends.

The album closes on the title track, again co-written by Cope along with singer Wes Bayliss. Lyrically, it’s an emotionally empowering track about taking all of the darker parts of your life, the stones/insults people have thrown at you over the years and using them to build a house, finding security and peace. On its own it’s a powerful song, highlighted by Bayliss stark, unwavering vocals; but knowing that Cope passed on with a sense of having righted some of the wrongs in his life, it takes on an even heavier meaning.

Elsewhere, the band turns in an impressive cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “I Need You,” with Ashley Monroe sharing vocals, an apt cover given the obvious Skynyrd influence on the band’s sound. The track “Ole Pal,” written by Bayliss about missing an old friend, again takes on a more profound and urgent meaning with Cope’s death.  

With their past couple of albums, The Steel Woods were building a bridge between country and rock using influences from Waylon Jennings to Black Sabbath to bring together a disparate collective that revealed in their outsider status. With All Of Your Stones, the band has put out what is certain to become a career-defining collection of songs whose themes and lyrics take on extraordinary significance given the past few months. Cope’s powerful swan song is bittersweet, certain to find the band their biggest audience yet.