Like the proverbial rivers edge, murder ballads are a perfect and moody destination for the bluegrass genre.
The SteelDrivers visit this familiar haunt on their song “Brother John.” The Nashville-based band – fiddler Tammy Rogers, guitarist and lead singer Gary Nichols, banjoist Richard Bailey and bassist Mike Fleming – play a deceptively spry arrangement underpinning a song dealing with murder, that may or may not be justified, and the killer’s brother advising him to run and slip the hangman’s noose.
About the emotional release in the appeal of murder ballads in bluegrass, lead singer Gary Nichols tells Rolling Stone: “I think it’s just that love gone wrong induces such rage in people, and there’s so much cheating going on in the world anyway,”
“Sometimes it’s just good for the listener to be able to kill their spouse in a song. They don’t want to do it for real, so sometimes having that song can help them feel better.”
The band tapped Jason Isbell to co-produce and play slide guitar on the song.
“I think he pushed us a little more,” says SteelDrivers lead singer Gary Nichols of Isbell’s contributions. “If you listen to the songs we cut, they’re almost on the edge of ‘slow,’ which with a banjo roll doesn’t always work. He just allowed us to just be the band in the studio, and we kind of let him drive.”
“Brother John” was co-written by Gary Nichols and Barry Billings. It can be found on the upcoming ‘The Muscle Shoals Recordings’ out June 16th on Rounder Records.