“Kentucky’s never been this far from Tennessee / Tonight it feels like you’re a million miles away from me,” Hayley Prosser and Sara Zebley sing in perfect synchronicity in “Kentucky’s Never Been This Far,” and as their words leave their lips and delicately wrap around us like a warm blanket in the dead of winter, the comforting drawl that they share sweeps us off our feet and graciously brings us into the safety of their melodies. In Steel Blossoms’ self-titled album, their second overall and first released on Billy Jam Records, songs like this one and the honky tonkin’ “Killed a Man” see this Nashville pair opening up themselves up to us in a way that most artists would shy away from for fear of being overly exposed, and their efforts render some of the most provocative results that I’ve listened to in 2019. Flanked with a grizzly poetry that balances the effervescent swing of the rhythm, “Killed a Man” shines like a sonic diamond in the rough, and while it’s nothing like the songs topping the country charts at the moment, that’s precisely what makes it such a fetching track.
“Heroine” is just as jarring lyrically as “Killed a Man,” though its narrative is a much more tortuous one that is sadly relatable to the millions of us who have brushed up against the perils of addiction in some way, shape or form during our lifetimes. It rises like a phoenix from the ashes of the carefree “You Ain’t Sleeping Over,” and though the two songs couldn’t be much more contrasting on paper, they don’t make for odd bedfellows in this tracklist at all. “Innocent” centers on its tenacious, though understated, Americana twang and its relationship with the harmonies that Prosser and Zebley are emitting so effortlessly, and while it’s not the freewheeling folk rock that “Pick Me Up” boasts with pride, it acts as a really good segue into the latter half of the album just the same. One of the most intriguing songs on this record, for me at least, was the smoky “County Line,” which has all of the ingredients that one would find in a blues dirge, yet contains none of the grinding beats that would separate it from the country/folk nucleus of Steel Blossoms as a whole.
We get rolling in this record on the whim of a lusty little string melody in “You’re the Reason I Drink,” which spews its irony-soaked verses with an urgency that brings us right into the aching pleas of “Revenge” seamlessly. “Revenge” and “Heroine” are two of the most emotionally-charged tracks that this band has ever committed to tape, and to be quite honest, they justify picking up Steel Blossoms all on their own. Even if this album didn’t feature such springy hip-shakers like “Trailer Neighbor” and “You Ain’t Sleeping Over,” it would still be a watershed release for Prosser and Zebley, and for my money, there isn’t a record out this spring that will leave a bigger impression than these ten wickedly contagious anthems of Americana do with each and every listen.