What are some great Pedal Steel recordings?
September 24, 2008 3:47 PM   Subscribe

What are some great Pedal Steel recordings?

I love the mournful bendy notes of the Pedal Steel Guitar, and I'd like to find some albums that showcase the instrument. I am mainly looking for country, blues, and folk, but not artists who play in a jam band style. Bonus points for lo-fi recording quality that adds to the haunting sound.
posted by scose to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I must confess I'm not really sure what you mean by "a jam band style" so I hope I'm not too far off the mark in recommending you give Lucky Oceans a listen. He's one of the best pedal steel players I've heard (Try "Am I Blue" on the linked page).
posted by bunglin jones at 4:02 PM on September 24, 2008

Daniel Lanois uses it to quite a nice effect. But as a buddy of Brian Eno and a longtime U2 producer you can't expect low-fi.
I'd recomend starting with Belladonna. I love the track Frozen, which, when I last saw him live, he described as 'Chinese Jazz'.
posted by mannequito at 4:11 PM on September 24, 2008

There's great pedal steel playing by Bobby Black on some Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen albums: Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers' Favorites; Live from Deep in the Heart of Texas (mostly very country). There's pedal steel guitar all over a lot of Gram Parsons albums, but my favourite is the live album from his tour with Emmylou Harris and the Fallen Angels (Neil Flanz is the steel player). If you want mostly pedal steel by itself, give Buddy Emmons a try -- some of his stuff is a bit hokey, but he's an incredible musician. There's also Mike Perlowin, who can make a pedal steel sound like something completely different, and who has recorded an album of Stravinsky and Bartok and Gershwin and things.

Also if you're willing to overlook their jam band associations, the New Riders of the Purple Sage have Buddy Cage, who's amazing -- Powerglide is the album I'd recommend.
posted by bewilderbeast at 4:15 PM on September 24, 2008

Might I recommend Robert Rudolph and the Family Band?
posted by MrHappyGoLucky at 4:19 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Get some Pure Prarie League tunes with John David Call on pedal steel.

I can specifically recommend the Two Lane Highway album.

You get the bonus of Craig Fuller's excellent vocals on this one too.

Also, great cover art.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:34 PM on September 24, 2008

Stars of the Steel Guitar (couldn't find it in the US Amazon shop), but you could also try here.
posted by txsebastien at 4:37 PM on September 24, 2008

MrHappyGoLucky, it's actually Robert Randolph and the Family Band.

The site you link to has the headline wrong, as is evident when you start reading the text.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:38 PM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Look into the Sacred Steel tradition. Some mp3s from the Campbell Brothers available here.
posted by hippugeek at 4:41 PM on September 24, 2008

The husband, a steel player, recommended: Finding recordings with Lloyd Green playing steel. Old Charlie Pride albums, Web Pierce (may have that lo-fi sound you're looking for), Joaquin Murphy from the Tex Williams band. He spends a lot of time on the Steel Guitar Forum where he finds a lot of good recommendations / links.

I love the blurry tones of the steel guitar. Looking forward to where this thread goes. Here's a fun Texas Playboys recording just for kicks.
posted by dog food sugar at 5:00 PM on September 24, 2008

(In a hurry so I don't have time for full linkage. Sorry)

Well, there's always Steel Guitar Radio.

My all-time favorite steel player is Jon Rauhouse who records and tours with Neko Case. On his own, he puts out kind of weird tiki-jazz records with guitarist Tommy Connell and vocalists Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, and Rachel Flotard.

Buddy Emmons is pretty much the Prometheus of the steel guitar. Some notable player whose name escapes me commented that, "Playing the pedal steel sometimes feels like playing Buddy Emmons brain." He's put out a number of solo albums that showcase his remarkable talent and instrument. They are not, however, albums I find myself listening to all the frequently. They're more showcases for Emmons and the instrument and less about music.

Tom Brumley is another badass. He played with Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam. The best album for his playing with Yoakam is, IMHO, Tomorrow's Sounds Today and, with Buck, Live at Carnegie Hall. Awesome, awesome tone.

For depressing songwriting and steel playing, I suggest Winnemucca by Richmond Fontaine. Portland and Austin-based player Paul Brainard is on that album and singer-songwriter Willy Vlautan writes country songs with a Raymond Carver flavor.

Willie Nelson's Demo Sessions is lo-fi. These were Willie's songwriting demos for getting a start in the business. He performs a number of duets with, IIRC, Jimmy Day that will haunt your brain forever.

Bob Hoffnar recorded New Music for the Pedal Steel Guitar if you're interested in avantgarde microtonal compositions. I eat that stuff up, but some consider it to be unlistenable. YMMV. In a similar vein is Bruce Kaphan's album Slider. Availability on that one is pretty spotty, though.

Sacha Matson wrote Steel Chords, which is a very pretty pedal steel, string quartet composition. Earnest Bovine recorded the steel for that one.

Friends of Dean Martinez are kind of southwestern-flavored TV theme song music with the vocal lines performed on the non-pedal steel guitar. Really, really good and not quite like anyone else.

The producer Daniel Lanois has recorded one or two atmospheric albums which haven't made it into my collection, but plenty of others like the albums and I'm glad he recorded them.

Anything by Dale Watson will be straight-up honky tonk awesome. He's recorded with Don Pawlak and Ricky Davis who are both utter badasses. As is, in point of fact, Dale Watson.

I've got more recommendations, so mefail me if I don't remember to follow up. The pedal steel is a fantastic instrument and there are a *lot* of great records out there.
posted by stet at 5:11 PM on September 24, 2008

You should checkout The Word. This group was a combo of Robert Randolph, John Medeski, and the North Mississippi Allstars.
posted by austinetsu at 5:38 PM on September 24, 2008

It's not country/blues/folk, but I love Luke Vibert + BJ Cole's Stop The Panic. It's more playful than mournful, but definitely features some worthwhile pedal steel playing.
posted by substars at 6:14 PM on September 24, 2008

Also not country/blues/folk, but I've always loved the pedal steel on Chill Out.
posted by exogenous at 8:18 PM on September 24, 2008

Gotta go with substars recommendations here. BJ Cole is good times, also love the steel on Chiil Out.

You might try Brian Eno's Apollo. There's some pretty cool steel on the end of that record.

If you find anything else that's cool, lemme know. I think we're probably looking for the same kind of thing....
posted by word_virus at 9:13 PM on September 24, 2008

There is some great pedal steel stuff on the Rolling Stone's "Beggar's Banquet" LP
posted by peewinkle at 9:20 PM on September 24, 2008

Check out this MeFi thread from April.
posted by trip and a half at 10:37 PM on September 24, 2008

Holy smokes! Nobody's mentioned Speedy West yet? Snag a copy of "Stratosphere Boogie" by Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant.
posted by shinybeast at 10:48 PM on September 24, 2008

No one said Walking After Midnight? (instructional video!)
posted by Methylviolet at 10:50 PM on September 24, 2008

Nigerian jùjú ain't exactly "jam band" in the sense you probably mean it, but it may not be your cup of tea either. Nonetheless, I'd recommend at least checking out how bandleader King Sunny Ade (YouTube live clip) incorporated the instrument. This clip isn't particularly pedal-heavy but there's some great moments on his Juju Music album.
posted by dr. boludo at 6:34 AM on September 25, 2008

King Sunny Ade's pedal steel player was Demola Adepoju. He has made at least one solo record (pretty great).
posted by alb at 6:52 AM on September 25, 2008

Check out Susan Alcorn. Lovely moody steel work.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:19 AM on September 25, 2008

More love for Robert Randolph. The guy is amazing . . . . plus, find one of his videos and watch him get into it, its pretty impressive

posted by jeffderek at 8:24 AM on September 25, 2008

Oops! I meant to also link to this recording of Susan Alcorn playing El Arado. Similar stuff is on the album Uma (Mercedes Sosa) From the above linked review:

Until now I mostly heard the PSG in country-related music, but I've always longed to hear this instrument in a different context. I never imagined that the PSG could be stretched to the limits Susan has reached. It's quite hard to describe the music. It oscillates beween 20th century Art Music, Nels Cline-Jazz and a completely personal approach. She even covered a tune from "Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares" which I thought would be absolutely impossible.

Petal steel that melts.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:37 AM on September 25, 2008

Check out Dave Berzansky with The Hacienda Brothers.
posted by 4Lnqvv at 8:56 AM on October 1, 2008

« Older Should I drink it?   |   A video example of joual, please! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.