The Steel Woods: Straw in the Wind

Not to be confused with The Steel Wheels, Steeldrivers, Steelism or other bands that have similar names, this is the debut album from this Nashville-based rock band, The Steel Woods. They are a mixture of Southern styles, embracing all pillars of those genres and more. Some have dubbed them a Southern rock band but they are more diverse than that. There’s even a heavy metal influence as they render a Black Sabbath tune. Straw in the Wind is a mix of originals and covers by the group’s co-founders, both multi-instrumentalists. Wes Bayliss is the lead singer with soulful pipes like Chris Stapleton, while guitarist Jason “Rowdy” Cope brings the outlaw spirit, having played guitar in Jamey Johnson’s band for nine years. The two met while performing on the same bill in a Nashville club. In addition to their own tunes, besides the aforementioned cover, they interpret songs by Darrell Scott and Brent Cobb. Drummer Jay Tooke and bassist Johnny Stanton provide the rhythm.

As you might glean from the stunning, haunting opener, “Axe,” punctuated by Bayliss’ dobro, there is a fair share of dark stuff here. The furiously rendered “Della Jane’s Heart” is a murder ballad about a vengeful scorned lover, while the title track depicts a cast of unsavory characters who disappear one by one. Lighter moments are found in “Better in the Fall,” and “I’m Gonna Love You,” showcases for the breadth and depth of Bayliss’ vocals.

A clear highlight is “The Secret,” featuring the vocals of Lindi Ortega and guest Jake Clayton’s lush string arrangement that offsets the band’s harder-edged fare. It’s the story of a dejected Adam eventually realizing that the Devil can come in any form, including his own mate, Eve (Ortega’s part). The band alternates between a gritty and tender lyrical perspective and a hard-hitting electric and acoustic sound. These are on full display in “I’m Gonna Love You’ with its memorable line, getting things done “with a flower or a gun.” Ortega returns on harmony for the harmonica-driven “Wild & Blue.” The blaring five-and-a- half-minute cover of Black Sabbath’s “Hole in the Sky” is full of screaming guitars and dense bass lines, initially like a storm before what begins as an acoustic closer, “Let the Rain Come Down,” eventually morphs into a rousing, foot-stomping plea for the farmers’ crops.

This is quite an auspicious debut. An outfit like Thirty Tigers does not usually pick up fledging bands. The Steel Woods have the right blend of vocals, musicianship, and songwriting. They will get plenty of airplay and notice, and have a fine future ahead.

—Jim Hynes