Review by Neil Smart, DJ, KGNU Boulder
Steel Pennies’ maiden recording voyage, Rusty Zinc Coated Bluegrass Music is a victory for real songs played on real instruments and sung by real people. The disc opens with a 15 second window into the collective personality of the Pennies (Ready? Okay, Wait!). What follows is a collection of songs and tunes from Bluegrass legends like Bill Monroe, Carter Stanley, and Reno and Smiley. But this isn’t simply a reexamination of standards, far from it.
Included in the selections are the Fred (Elgersma) Eaglesmith off-kilter ditty I Shot Your Dog delivered with grace and humor by guitarist Kathy (“We call her Tater, you can too”) Drazsnzak. Darrell Cox provides just the right amount of hard-edged country twang on Steve Earle’s Texas Eagle and Jimmy Skinner’s classic, He Died a Rounder at 21, which is true to its heritage while receiving a fresh coat of paint from the Pennies.
Four original compositions, two each from guitarist Kevin Slick and banjo player David Okay Patton, round out the 14 track collection. The Patton-penned Colorado Coal Train is a rollicking trip through the band’s home state on a “long burning low sulfur black shiny high country Colorado coal train”. His rowdy Time on My Hands is a fine compliment to the preceding track, Don Reno’s instrumental Banjo Signal, which is covered with musicianship that would make the master proud. Slick’s Pennsylvania Dream, is a well-crafted, plaintive story of a loved place lost and left behind. His One New Road exhibits a maturity and depth of songwriting befitting the band’s nickname for him, “The Professor”. The Pennies’ treatment of such classics as True Life Blues, Girl Behind the Bar, and Last Train from Poor Valley is respectful of and true to the music.
Collectively, the Steel Pennies exude a love of not only playing the music, but of the music itself. Each note is conveyed with affection and purpose; there isn’t a lot of wasted motion in the songs. What you hear from the Pennies is Bluegrass at its deepest roots.
This is a fine recording that should grace the collections of both long-time fans of straight-ahead Bluegrass, as well as those who are new to the music. The Steel Pennies are talented, fun and as nice a bunch of folks as you’ll ever want to meet. Get out and see them when they come to your town and, in the meantime, pick up a copy of Rusty Zinc Coated Bluegrass Music–it’ll make your ears happy.
Review by KC Groves, musician, songwriter, and superstar, Lyons, CO
The Steel Pennies have been a band for almost 10 years now with a rotating cast of talented and colorful characters. Dave and Kathy Patton stand as the founders and core leaders of the group. Besides being adept musicians, they are fervent supporters of the bluegrass scene on the Front Range.
When the latest configuration of Steel Pennies started playing live, it was clear they had that magical combination of vocal strength, traditional prowess, and writing abilities to really take the band to the next level.
The band’s latest offering, Rusty Zinc Coated Bluegrass, is a collection of both traditional songs and tunes (Bill Monroe, Carter Stanley, Reno & Smiley and Norman Blake), as well as some very strong originals, which showcase the band’s developing and unique sound. After the very traditional 49-second intro which nods to the tradition of how Flatt and Scruggs would open their shows, they get off to a great start with a song made popular by Larry Sparks: “Don’t Neglect The Rose In Your Garden.” It is a song with a great message that features the strong, take-no-prisoners vocals of the talented Kathy Drazsnzak (guitar).
Probably the song that will stick in the listener’s memory is the quirky Fred Eaglesmith song, “I Shot Your Dog.” It is perfectly placed in the middle of the album and offers some levity at just the right moment. Kathy Drazsnzak’s vocal delivery really honors the story of the song while putting a nice bluegrass spin on it.
The band made good choices of traditional selections on the album, especially “Girl Behind The Bar,” which highlights Darrell Cox’s more traditionally-styled playing. Darrell (mandolin) spent years playing with the ultra-traditional Stanley Tones—the experience evident in his vocal delivery. However, his mandolin playing seems just as comfortable and fitting on the original material. The Carter Stanley song, “Girl Behind The Bar,” is a duet throughout and nicely represents the wonderful blend between guitarist Kathy Drazsnzak and banjoist David Okay Patton’s vocals.
The strong original material is what really stands out on this album and sets the band apart from other traditional bands.
“Colorado Coal Train” by David Okay Patton and “Pennsylvania Dream” are two original songs that could easily be worked into bluegrass jam circles nationwide.
Rusty Zinc Coated Bluegrass Music is a delightful CD from track one to fourteen. It wonderfully showcases the strengths of each band member and is, what I hope, just a musical foreshadowing of the successful careers they have all worked for and deserve.