ALBUM REVIEW: Andy Hall & Roosevelt Collier's Let The Steel Play
Words by Kevin Hahn (Split Open & Shoot)
When a master of his/her specific craft reaches what some people may call “The Peak” or “The Top of the Mountain,” realistically what do they do next? Do they keep their usual routine intact, possibly leaving new opportunities on the shelf due to obligations, contracts, or in some cases the fear of something new? What if the ever-evolving world we live in didn’t accept an accomplished master’s new art, music, or desire to explore the unknown? Thankfully, two of these very “masters” I speak of have decided to come together after a few years of a budding friendship to release a truly fantastic duo album.
The first time I was fortunate enough to witness this duo of Andy Hall (Infamous Stringdusters) and Roosevelt Collier (The Lee Boys, Bokante) was a beautiful day on the banks of Rancho del Rio for YarmonyGrass festival. Slated as an exploration into the sounds of “Slide/Steel” this short, but insanely worthwhile festival set allowed both Andy and Roosevelt to explore a whole new side of their respective slide instruments and to the lucky few in attendance a meaningful collaboration was formed. Fast forward through a few years of heavy Stringdusters touring and Rosie flying all over the country for a variety of his funky “Get Down” guest-filled events and us slide/steel junkies finally getting our fix. Let the Steel Play is a pure collaborative effort between these two masters of the slide-craft, with each bringing their unique tones and skills to every song choice. Having no lyrics/singers on this album also allows for the audience to purely enjoy what these two have been working on for a good time now.
Starting the album off with the well-known song “This Little Light of Mine,” this first tune showcases the variety of picking and sliding skills that both Roosevelt and Andy possess. With an up-tempo, almost bass-like sound coming from Rosie’s signature steel, Andy shreds from one side of his dobro to the other giving us a great rendition of the famous tune. “A Maiden’s Prayer” slows everything down for a bit as both slide-masters move up and down the strings with an ease that most musicians are not capable of. One of my favorite aspects of this album is the very evident uniqueness that each and every song choice has. From a slow twang, to a funky/fast thumping bass-line “Let the Steel Play” gives fans an insight of what Rosie and Andy can do when musically unleashed. “Singing Steel” is another perfect example of the variety of genres, techniques, and chords this duo put together for their first collaborative album. Harmonizing together via their respective slide-weapons, Rosie and Andy take us on an up and down ride going from one solo to the next.
Two beautiful covers come in the next three songs of the album, with the Jerry Garcia penned “Crazy Fingers” and The Dillards “Reuben’s Train” taking center stage in showcasing the true musical prowess of this duo. Highlighting chord transitions and an immense over-laying of tones with these instrumental renditions, Andy and Rosie take “Fingers” to a level of twang unheard by most before. The Let the Steel Play version of the classic bluegrass song “Reuben’s Train” is much slower than the original and gives off a funk-like quality which always is a pleasure for me personally. Rosie’s electric steel comes front and center with this cover, as he utilizes a variety of slide-playing techniques throughout the tune.
“The Darkest Hour” is a haunting song choice for this usually happy/smiling duo, but the change-up is a nice break from the overall twangy-ness of the album. At first Rosie provides a deep and chest-beating bass line, while Andy does some strumming that reminds me of a John Wayne movie scene. As the song evolves, Rosie gets his turn to unleash some powerful electric-pedal steel turning this into one of my favorite songs on the entire album. Rosie brings us back to church with “Power in the Blood," as it carries a “Light of Mine” type of quality to it. Rosie exclaiming “Yah Brotha” at the end of the song is a perfect way to bring the album to a close as the dirty funkiness of “Colfax Boogie” starts coming slowly through each side of my headphones. This song brings everything I have seen these two do full-circle, as I remember the foundation of this tune being laid down on that fateful day alongside the banks of the Colorado River. Joining Andy and Rosie for this tune is another "Brother of Slide," Greensky Bluegrass' Anders Beck. A highly talented dobro player himself, Beck and Hall playing in unison together is something a dobro fan dreams of. Bringing together all of the qualities Let the Steel Play has, “Colfax Boogie” has some twang, funk, and good ole-fashioned sacred steel mastery laid on top of each other creating a perfect end to this fantastic album.
To say, "I hope these two absolute masters of the slide/steel instruments stay together and collaborate more" would be a huge understatement. The sounds created by the dobro and/or the steel guitar are unlike most I get to hear during the busy summer festival season. There are not many trying to continue the traditions of Jerry Douglas, or even those carrying on the slide-mastery of Duane Allman or Robert Johnson. We need more people such as Andy and Rosie who play instruments that might not be as popular in our modern musical age. The twang of the dobro and the rearing of a pedal-steel guitar are too important for us musical junkies to live without. Where would I be without people such as Andy, Rosie, or even Derek Trucks being living and breathing tributes to the sounds of the past? Who knows, but to start a journey into this world do yourself a favor and check out Let the Steel Play, as this duo is bringing light to a unique sound unheard by most.