Three years ago I found Danny Schmidt’s music on a sampler CD. Suddenly I couldn’t stop listening to his music, his brilliant lyrics and sweet voice. Two summers ago my wife and I couldn’t stop listening to Andrew McKnight’s “Something Worth Standing For” CD with its creative arrangements and intense message. Last year, it was Devon Sproule performing for an hour at Jammin Java that flipped my wig, her solo with an old semi-hollow electric singing funky pure poetry. All songwriters from Virginia, all from about an hour or two from us here in the DC suburbs.
So it’s no surprise that I’ve found this year’s Virginia heroes–Trent Wagler and the Steel Wheels from down around Harrisonburg and Staunton. Their CDs have been burning up my iTunes, a mountain-style quartet with total rock-and-roll energy. I caught these guys last night at the Tortilla Factory for the Reston-Herndon Folk Club monthly show, and they blew the place apart.
They performed as a trio with upright bass, fiddle, and Wagler on guitar, banjo, and lead vocals. (Their mandolin player was taking time off for a newborn daughter.) Not a flat tire in the crew. Brian on the bass was spot on walking and slapping the beat. Eric Brubaker plays strong, sweet, driving hard fiddle. Wagler’s picking is clean, strong, and fast. His lead vocals are high, strident, mountainy, rock-and-roll raspy and sweet. His voice reminds me of John Fogerty on the old CCR records, and a friend pointed out quite a resemblance to the old CCM rocker Larry Norman’s high bluesy voice.
The songs were mostly originals and totally original. The lyrics always mean a lot to me, and their words were real good. Like I said, it takes me maybe a year or so to find someone who is writing something that is fresh and captivating to me. These lyrics are thoughtful, yet you feel like you get it on the first listen. “When That Whistle Blows” slays me, a guy saying goodbye to his lady with her new man chopping wood in the back yard and their new baby on the floor, looking just like the narrator, heading off alone on a train.
The guys were chatting up everyone and a lot of fun to talk to. These guys have a couple more shows coming up soon in our area, and we’re already making plans with friends to get there.
Get this stuff on your iTunes, it’s all worth it. http://www.thesteelwheels.com