Best songs with steel guitar
February 28, 2005 6:19 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorite songs featuring steel guitar (lap/pedal steel)?

I've always really enjoyed country, alt-country, and related musics for their use of this instrument. Lately I've been listening to The KLF's "Chill Out" album, especially digging on tracks like "Madrugada Eterna." Beck's "Rowboat" is another good one. Basically, anything that relies heavily on this instrument, or samples it, would be good.
posted by rxrfrx to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I love the use of steel guitar in wistful pop songs. The Decemberists have made extensive use of steel guitar on their two studio albums. Grace Cathedral Hill and Clementine are probably my favorite tracks in this regard.

Camera Obscura also have some nice steel guitar touches on their LP Underachievers Please Try Harder.

I also always dug the way Pink Floyd used slide guitar, both on Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:26 PM on February 28, 2005

Hank Williams Sr.'s "Ramblin Man".
posted by saladin at 6:26 PM on February 28, 2005

Oh, one more I forgot to mention is The Shins, in particular the track Gone for Good from their album Chutes Too Narrow.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:27 PM on February 28, 2005

Daniel Lanois will pull it out from time to time, with pretty good results.
posted by Evstar at 6:29 PM on February 28, 2005

Anything by Sol Hoopii, King Bennie Nawahi, and/or Tampa Red. DAMN, those guys could play.
posted by Dr. Wu at 6:34 PM on February 28, 2005

Paul Niehaus, who plays lap steel in Lambchop, Calexico and the WPA Ball Club is one of my favorites.
posted by cali at 6:46 PM on February 28, 2005

I like Luke Vibert (plug and wagonchrist) and session steel man BJ Cole's Stop the Panic.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 6:47 PM on February 28, 2005

I like "I Wish I Was the Moon Tonight" by Neko Case, off Blacklisted. She has the same steel player on all her albums (I think) - Jon Rauhouse. Stet can tell you more.

Also Richmond Fontaine use their steel player very well, I think.
posted by librarina at 6:48 PM on February 28, 2005

There is some crazy pedal steel playing by B.J. Cole on "Caroline," from David Gray's A New Day at Midnight.

Truly fantastic.
posted by PhatLobley at 6:56 PM on February 28, 2005

One would not go amiss visiting Steel Guitar Radio.

As far as it goes, the song I listen to every time in the car before I play a recording session is, as librarina mentioned, is I wish I was the Moon off Neko's Blacklisted. That is Jon Rauhouse, my all-time favorite steel player who has released a couple of excellent albums under his own name as well as backing up any number of great bands.

If you're into Hawaiian music, Jerry Byrd is pretty much the player. Master of Touch and Tone is the album most cited from his library. Bob Brozman is an acoustic steeler in the Hawaiian tradition that has a lot of well-deserved recognition even though I'm not personally a great fan of his playing.

King Sunny Ade was a seminal steel player in the afropop tradition. I don't have any of his albums, but he's an important player.

Sasha Matson's Steel Chords is an album I've been listening to a whole lot lately. I don't know if I'd consider it really a steel guitar recording so much as a great album with steel guitar on it.

Lloyd Green recently reissued an album, Master of Steel Guitar if I recall correctly, which has that hillbilly jazz kind of feel to it. It's a brilliant album and, unlike so many steel albums, is very listenable. Unfortunately, many steel guitar albums are largely recorded for steel players and have really crappy sounding midi keyboards and drum machines backing up the steel player. They're wonderful albums, but only if you focus exclusively on the steel when you listen.

And one would be remiss to not mention the Sacred Steelers and their contributions in the gospel steel arena. Robert Randolph, who recently toured with Eric Clapton, is the most prominent player of this genre right now. I'd take a look at Dan Tyack as well. He's a white guy and my former teacher who made his way into the sacred steel tradition. He's got free samples up on his site as well.

Buddy Emmons remains the greatest (probably) pedal steeler ever. He's recorded a number of solo albums available from Amazon that are pretty remarkable as far as steel playiing goes. With the exception of Steel Guitar Jazz, I don't feel they hold up as albums for non-steel players in their own right. Like many virtuosi, Emmons has a tendency to select material that highlights his instrument over the song and musical experience. I love each and every one of his albums, but don't expect my non-steel playing friend to dig them.

Buck Owen's album Live at Carnegie Hall features Tom Brumley very heavily and is mindblowing for the steel guitat. Don Rich and Buck are incredible players as well and the combination of the band is just... awesome.

Speedy West was another player that defined the instrument. He and Jimmy Bryant had this incredible synchronicity in their playing that is beyond my writing ability to describe.

One would also do well to visit the Steel Guitar Forum CD Store and page through the offerings there. Again, many of these albums are aimed at steel players and not listeners and tend to focus more on the pedal steel than the song, but every one of the players in the catalog is mind-blowingly good.

And I expect I'll have more in a bit. My email is in my profile, so feel free to drop me a line and I can refine suggestions according to you tastes.
posted by stet at 7:12 PM on February 28, 2005

Also, Tom Brumley plays one absolutely gorgeous fill in Dwight Yoakam's I Sang Dixie That's about my favorite steel guitar fill ever.
posted by stet at 7:25 PM on February 28, 2005

all of Robert Randolph and the Family Band
Also along the same lines (but a little more rockabilly, camp) Junior Brown
posted by CCK at 7:27 PM on February 28, 2005

GP/Grievous Angel. Also for a more modern alt-country thing, see if you can track down this album by Evangeline. Kevin Suggs played on that Shins album listed above as well as the other albums listed on his web site. He's a really talented musician, worth tracking down the albums he plays on.
posted by jessamyn at 7:49 PM on February 28, 2005

If you dug KLF and the ambient electronic of its day, you might like A Small Good Thing's Slim Westerns Vol I and Vol II.
posted by AlexReynolds at 8:15 PM on February 28, 2005

On a different tack, you might like Dire Straits' "The Man's Too Strong" from Brothers in Arms.
posted by AlexReynolds at 8:17 PM on February 28, 2005

"Sleep Walk" by Santo and Johnny. It's not obscure, but I love it anyway.

If you'd like to stretch it a bit and talk about dobros, I think "Wayfaring Stranger" from Roses in the Snow is just amazing. Also a number of other Emmylou Harris songs (which you're probably already familiar with).
posted by Tuwa at 8:23 PM on February 28, 2005

In an entirely different vein, there's Sacred Steel: Traditional Sacred African-American Steel Guitar Music in Florida, which is a collection of mostly recent recordings from a handful of Southern Pentacostal House of God churches in central Florida where the steel guitar has been the primary instrument used in services for decades.

Glenn Lee's "Joyful Sounds" in particular is steel guitar like you've never heard it before, but the whole album's a revelation.

Oh, and Frank Black & the Catholics' "End of Miles" (from Black Letter Days) is driven by a propulsive, hard-driving steel-guitar riff.
posted by gompa at 9:55 PM on February 28, 2005

If you like the sound of steel guitar, the Hawaiian stuff and Speedy West are both among the best steel guitar ever recorded. I get shivers every time I listen to the "Sacred Steel" album gompa mentions, too.
posted by mediareport at 10:17 PM on February 28, 2005

Junior Brown plays what he call a guit-steel, one part electric guitar and one part steel. He plays mostly country but will also add a dash of Hendrix. One of my favorite songs is a duet with Jimmy Vaughn called "Your Wanted By The Police And My Wife Thinks Your Dead".
posted by jabo at 10:29 PM on February 28, 2005

Dobro great Jerry Douglas did some great work on Bill Frisell's 1997 album Nashville. His solos on Go Jake" and "Mr. Memory" are particularly lovely. "Gimme a Holler" (opening track) is sublime.
posted by kables at 11:05 PM on February 28, 2005

Seconds for Daniel Lanois and Junior Brown.
posted by turbodog at 11:32 PM on February 28, 2005

Jerry Garcia on his first solo album, on CSNY (Teach Your Children Well), and on New Riders of the Purple Sage recordings.
posted by fixedgear at 3:08 AM on March 1, 2005

posted by airguitar at 4:17 AM on March 1, 2005

Morcheeba - Part of the Process. The sample on doesn't have much of the guitar in it though!
posted by viama at 6:11 AM on March 1, 2005

Doug Martsch's whole album Now You Know is riddled with great slide guitar playing.
posted by soplerfo at 6:50 AM on March 1, 2005

I highly recommend Tone Poems III featuring Mike Auldridge, David Grisman and Tony Rice.
"After tracing the development of flat top steel string guitars, acoustic arch-top jazz guitars, and American style carved mandolins in Tone Poems I and II, Tone Poems III enters into the fascinating world of slide and "resophonic" instruments."
Actually I would highly recommend all of the CDs in the Tone Poem series.
posted by terrapin at 7:40 AM on March 1, 2005

Paris Texas by Rye Cooder. He also joins up well in a few songs off the soundtrack Performance. In the world of Blues, John Lee Hooker on The Healer album (with Bonnie Raitt).
posted by Viomeda at 7:43 AM on March 1, 2005

In a more traditional style, Johnny Cash's "Highway Patrolman" has some great creeping minimal steel guitar, including a solo.
posted by hellbient at 9:56 PM on March 13, 2005

« Older iPod scratch removers?   |   Best place to see jazz in Chicago? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.