It’s tough friends, tough as hell. As I write this review, I can’t help but be moved and moved, thinking about all that this record means, these 9 pieces (plus a short intro), one more beautiful than the other. 9 precious stones, the legacy to the world of a unique artist and underestimated by the mainstream, a man devoured for years by demons and health problems but from which he had emerged, with effort, commitment and scars. Jason “Rowdy” Cope (15 March 1978 – 16 January 2021) was a guitarist, an author, a producer and a leader as in music are born few, fine ear and unique talent. After being the guitarist of the legendary Jamey Johnson for almost 10 years, he decided to give body to his musical vision after meeting the young singer Wes Bayliss, to merge the bloodier and intricate southern rock to the Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers Band, to the country more anchored to the roots, to create a unique and recognizable sound that paid pledge also to his love for bands like Black Sabbath or rocker like Tom Petty. A mix that seems almost absurd, but that the talent and passion of these two artists made possible and gave life and body to Steel Woods (to which were added bassist Johnny Stanton and drummer Jay Tooke, then replaced in 2020 by Isaac Senty). Debut date 2017 with the exceptional Straw In The Wind followed in 2019 by Old News that gives us a mature band, conscious, a level songwriting and brave covers. In the first two records there are versions that almost surpass the originals of two pieces by Black Sabbath (Hole in the Sky and Changes), Tom Petty (Southern Accent), the Allman Brothers Band (Whipping Post, what a courage!), Townes Van Zandt (Catfish Song) and Merle Haggard (Are The Good Times Really Over). The band becomes a reference for the southern rock of blue collar matrix along with Whiskey Myers and Blackberry Smoke, the live are followed and the name circulates, before this tragic situation that stopped everything and then also the car of live, they had to come to Italy for the first time on July 15, 2020 in Milan (I was proud to have a ticket to attend). A postponement (which then became annulment) that will deprive us forever of seeing the whole band, of seeing the vision of a boy with a unique talent taken away from us too soon. In fact, on the night of January 16, 2021, probably due to complications due to diabetes, Jason Cope will never wake up. Leaving the world and the fans stunned and devastated, a man who as we will see on this record, where the lyrics now assume an almost premonitory value, had overcome his demons, addictions and was ready to show the world that his music and his talent were not common. Now listen to a song like the first (after the intro) Out of the Blue is excruciating, moving to tears. Out of the blue, that is, out of the demons, from the sadness, from the suffering while the music is heavy, a full and rhythmic riff, very blues rock with a southern soul, the incisive and powerful voice of Bayliss opens the heart and shakes the soul. The final solo rips the air to take us out of the deep blue of bad thoughts. But listening to it now is so devastating, the powerful choruses and rhythmic do not help to hold back tears. The album was completed and therefore the vision and the musical legacy that comes to us was and remains its original, but you can not listen to this masterpiece without thinking about what we missed for the future. You’re Cold starts with a crazy, tangled, gripping guitar work and a groove that wraps around your ears, the voice of Wes Bayliss is the most intense and exciting I’ve ever heard in recent years, Ronnie Van Zant is in the air. When we think that the best of the piece has already arrived, there comes an almost progressive bass cut by Stanton that raises the quality (already very high) of the arrangements, a rhythm that takes your breath away and that acts as an introduction to an exceptional instrumental ending, guitars and strings closure. Masterpiece! The rock ballad You Never Came Home starts sweet with the piano and gives us a wonderful solo that is wrapped by the unforgettable voice of Bayliss, not a note out of place, another arrangement by the best and a text that read today hurts even more, I confess listening I cried. One cannot fail to think of the tragic fate that struck those who wrote these words. And what about the next Ole Pal? The tears you didn’t use for the first one, leave them for this wonderful acoustic song, in which Wes sings some soul-tearing phrases heard today “Ole buddy, ole pal / I need to talk to you right now / You’re the only one that just might understand”. A piece enriched by violins and slide, a strong taste of country and roots. A jewel that will move several hearts. The cover chosen for the album is a tribute to one of the greatest southern rock bands in history, one that also inspired Steel Woods, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Cope and the Woods give us an incredible version of I Need You, perhaps one of the most intense ever written by the Jacksonville boys. A blues rock reinterpretation of a masterpiece, guitars that drag themselves into the southern swamps scratching the air, the beautiful voice of Wes completes perfectly in the duet with the singer Ashley Monroe. A long piece, the longest of the record that ends as a jam session southern to complete the dedication to the masters Lynyrd but also to the other band that has inspired from the beginning the sound of this group, the Allman Brothers Band, where Duane Allman and Dickey Betts‘ guitars intertwined. Exciting. The guitars become acoustic and another ballad tears our heart, Wes Bayliss and his voice enter into it and while they sing the words of Run On Ahead, thinking about what happened lead us to other tears : “I wish we lived forever, oh how I wish it wasn’t so / That we wear out our bodies just like shoes”. One wonderful piece after another, without interruptions, without decreases , which Rowdy’s disappearance raised to an involuntary and almost tragically premonitory posthumous inheritance. After this piece, comes the most rock track of the lot, the beautiful Baby Slow Down. Cope’s guitar offers intricate, brilliant riffs, and the lyrics are an exciting poem. The words that his worried mother said to his son seeing him in danger because of his demons and his life on the edge, words that as with the other pieces read today devastate the soul. We can only imagine what his mother felt after hearing them, then sung by a voice like that of Bayliss, so intense powerful and exciting. The cherry is the work of the guitar, talent underestimated that of Cope, the “connoisseurs” of Nashville should make amends even if posthumously. We were abandoned by a man who left an unbridgeable void. Also beautiful the next Aiming For You, a southern rock that has in the fat guitars and in a solo of a glittering beauty his strength, without forgetting the umpteenth vocal performance by Bayliss master. After serving for nine years in his band, Jason Cope for the title track gives us a song written with Jamey Johnson. A country rock piece that has an intensity to leave you breathless, rhythmic guitars and voice, an emotional monolith that are a corollary to an incisive and not trivial text on how to use the evil judgments and injustices of your life to build successes and joys. Put so at the end is almost an invitation to use the legacy of a great artist to be positive and go on with a smile, never forgetting where we come from and what heavy stones it took to build your own home. A perfect ending to a perfect record is not exaggerated. I defined them as precious stones taking their cue from the title and so they are, 9 precious stones, exciting, intense and compelling. There are those who will want to catalog them, relegate them to a genre, as they tried to do for Whiskey Myers, but it is not only southern rock, but also country, blues and folk, there is poetry and the intellectual finesse of the lyrics, It’s art gentlemen like the great bands of the past that Steel Woods was one of the proudest heirs to. But I’m wrong about the past, I can shout that they ARE STILL the heirs because the new guitarist Tyler Powers (who already knew Cope) has already shown in some live shows that he has the talent and the character to keep the SW flag high, certainly the deus ex-machina of their sound is no longer physically among them but we are certain that his legacy will not be wasted by these guys who have the talent and inspiration to move forward. Towards new live, where these 9 songs will find their own completely and in the years to come to continue a work just at the beginning but already legendary. Thanks for everything, Rowdy, we’ll never forget you.
(you can find original italian article at this link : https://trexroads.altervista.org/all-of-your-stones-the-steel-woods-2021/ )