“I remember wakin’ at the break o’ dawn / Mama in the kitchen puttin’ bacon on / And doin’ my chores n’ gettin’ gone” reminisces Steve Thomas in the first few verses of “Down In The Wildwood,” the opening track in his band’s new album All Of These Years. Backed by The Time Machine, Thomas isn’t shy about wearing his heart on his sleeve at any juncture of this tracklist – he’s honest and true to his poetic nature in everything from the title cut to “My Heart Is Always Headed Back To You.” This is a singer and songwriter uninterested in the popular themes currently making headlines in his scene; from the sounds of it, he has his own story to tell in this LP.
The harmonies tend to overwhelm the string half of the equation in a couple of spots here – namely “The Rat Race,” “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight” and “Since Love Came Around” – but it’s necessary to appreciate the joint force this band can generate on a dime. I get the impression that we’re not even hearing Steve Thomas & The Time Machine at full capacity in a few of the songs on this record; in tunes like “Rocky Road Blues,” it sounds like we’re hearing a sample of what would ultimately be an unforgettably explosive jam in-person.
Though the vocal is a little louder in the mix than it actually needed to be in “We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart,” the effect definitely magnifies the potency of the song’s lyrics in a way that simply wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Using the tools producers are given behind the glass to manipulate plain melodies into grandeur-laden epics is one thing, but utilizing them as weapons to advance a narrative is something deeply artistic in its own right. This band are trying the latter in this case, and scoring a homerun with critics like myself as a result.
One of the most disturbing trends I’ve witnessed in music of the Americana strain in recent times is the advent of synthetic components previously banned from genres like country and bluegrass. In this sense, the best part about All Of These Years is the fact that it features nothing unnatural to the style of music Thomas & company are seeking to pay homage to. The only thing electrifying about this album is the chills it induces on the spot, and for this bluegrass fan, it doesn’t get much better than that these days.
With the potential to go in almost any creative direction they see fit moving forward, I don’t think it would be too much to deem Steve Thomas & The Time Machine one of the more important indie bluegrass bands to watch in 2020. Theirs is far from a perfect debut – it admittedly has a scattered personality that will likely leave some big names in the establishment feeling less than flattered – but in terms of uniqueness and listenability, it’s a ten out of ten in every department that actually counts for something. I’m eager to see the next chapter of this story come together, and after you check out All Of These Years, I think you will be too.
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