Lots of blues rock albums take you screaming down a highway at 80 miles per hour. Going that fast can be fun, but it can also be scary. Plus, when you’re going that fast, you don’t get to enjoy much scenery. Steepwater Band’s Turn of the Wheel, a rocking set of Stones-inspired rock and roll, motors at a respectable speed limit, providing you with just enough of an adrenaline bump to quickly get you where you need to go, without making you feel like you’re going to veer off of the road.
The Steepwater Band have been around for over 20 years, born in Chicago, but finding greater recognition in Europe. Which just goes to show how arbitrary taste can be, because this is a tight outfit that knows how to write and perform solid songs. And those songs tend to capture the spirit of the Rolling Stones at their sweetest, but not necessarily their gentlest.
The album kicks off with its title track, a rhythmic groove a la the Black Crowes’ “Remedy.” Organ swells lend the tune a “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” layer of optimism, but the overall feeling isn’t of a band stealing, so much as one proudly showing off its influences. Singer Jeff Massey has a traditional rock and roll voice, a combination of grit, cool, and soul. Guitarist Eric Saylors lies in wake for much of the track, keeping the rhythm bumping, until he unleashes a sick slide guitar solo that peels through the song, like a drift car race on an icy lake. It’s a heavy tune, but not dark.
“Make It Right” is instant classic rock, recalling Bachman–Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business.” Chris Grove’s piano is upfront in the mix, adding to the 70s effect, and also keeping the tune light. And Grove knows a lot about that classic sound, having worked with Eddie Money. Saylors lays down a gorgeous solo that’s interesting and technical, but also low-key and melodic. It’s impressive and epic, but it’s also chill. “Running from the Storm” is sweet and sing-song, a track that could have been an Exile on Main Street outtake. “Big Pictures” has a huge drum groove and yet another Saylors guitar solo that obeys the speed limit but is also emotional and engaging.
Sometimes an album hits you at just the right time. This one was made before the pandemic, yet it’s the perfect antidote to the stress of modern life, mellow without being too dull and exciting without putting you on edge. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Stones themselves have a new single out right at this same moment, and that it also taps into a similar headspace that pushes intensity levels, but doesn’t try to break the needle. Turn of the Wheel hits a perfectly rocking middle ground for these unusual times.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Make It Right
– Big Pictures
– Running from the Storm
– Turn of the Wheel
The Big Hit
– Turn of the Wheel
Review by Steven Ovadia