When: Sat., Dec. 12, 8 p.m. 2015
STEEP CANYON RANGERS & JERRY DOUGLAS
SAT. DEC 12
UNC'S MEMORIAL HALL, CHAPEL HILL—When the comedian Steve Martin first recruited the Steep Canyon Rangers to back his banjo tunes in 2009, he tapped the Brevard sextet for its strength with relatively traditional bluegrass. The collaboration has now survived several tours and nabbed a Grammy nod for the joint studio album, Rare Bird Alert. It has raised the Rangers' profile considerably, too. But the band's own recordings are where it's actually made the most interesting strides.
Take Radio, the outfit's ninth and latest LP. Virtuosic dobro player Jerry Douglas produced it, adding another legendary name to the Rangers' list of collaborators. Though Radio topped Billboard's bluegrass chart upon its release, the material represents a far more inclusive approach to Americana styles than that label implies. From Douglas' twangy flourishes on the upbeat country cuts "Diamonds" and "Simple Is Me" to the melancholy of folk ballads like "Blue Velvet Rain" and "Down That Road Again," the Rangers' range crisscrosses roots idioms. And tracks like "Blow Me Away" prove they haven't completely left behind straight bluegrass, picked hard and fast.
And tight harmonies and top-notch hooks—strong enough to give the Rangers another avenue by which to cross over into the mainstream, without celebrity help—remain the group's hallmarks, despite the presence of relatively new percussionist Michael Ashworth. During this Chapel Hill homecoming concert, which will feature Douglas on dobro, audiences should be able to see how much they've grown even as they've retained their classic core. 8 p.m., $34–$104, 114 E. Cameron Ave., Chapel Hill, 919-843-3333, www.carolinaperformingarts.org. —Spencer Griffith