Strutting into focus with a flamboyant string harmony at the forefront of the mix is “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight,” one of the twelve songs comprising the new album from Steve Thomas & The Time Machine, All Of These Years. Rhythm is as big a factor in the interpretation of this song as it is in “Down In The Wildwood,” but the very notion of conventional percussion is still nowhere to be found. There’s an inspired jazziness to the experimental way in which Steve Thomas & The Time Machine are playing traditional bluegrass and country music in this debut album, and to understand precisely what I’m talking about, just take a close look at the construction of the beat in the two aforementioned songs, “Far Far Cry” and the potently hesitant title cut in All Of These Years. ‘Grass has always been groove-oriented, but for this band of talented young players, they’re taking the conceptual side of their complex genre’s sound to an entirely different level. They’ve certainly got the chops to pull off such an endeavor, and in the dozen tracks here, they do just that.
“The Rat Race” is everything that a good country/bluegrass crossover tune should be – agile, saturated in vocal warmth and string-bound even when it should be verse-centric by the standard rules of pop. Songs like this one are the bread and butter of The Time Machine’s sound, where others like “Lucky Man” and “My Heart Is Always Headed Back To You” feel more designed around Steve Thomas’ skillset exclusively.
He’s got a lot of charisma coming at us in both his words and the way he’s serenading us with them, and even in beefy, instrument-heavy numbers like “Rocky Road Blues,” his persona tends to be one of the most evocative elements in the grander scheme of things. When you’ve got the kind of natural chemistry that this crew has, there isn’t any need – nor any desire – to weigh down the music with a lot of bombastic fluff, and the band rightly left such nonsense on the sidelines. “Since Love Came Around” and “Daddy’s Twin I-beam” just wouldn’t feel like the homespun compositions they truly are with any additional ornamentation, and thus, they sound so much more relatable in the stripped-down context we find them in here.
Whether it be the bucking gallop of “We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart” or the gentle caress of the beat in “The Moon Over Georgia,” the rhythmic pulsations that Steve Thomas & The Time Machine are offering listeners around the globe this year are collectively a required acquisition if you’re into bluegrass. All Of These Years is a meticulous yet unfanciful affair that demands as much of a physical reaction out of its audience as it does an emotional one, and even though it’s coming out during a competitive season for Americana, it still stands out in a crowd without a problem. There’s a lot of ground left for this group to cover as they find their place in the underground hierarchy, but I plan on following their journey every step of the way after hearing this amazing debut.