Remember Josh Graves? How about Tut Taylor? Or Paul Franklin? For anyone other than guitar geeks the names conjure something like memories, if not quite formed enough to warrant the term. They are all steel guitar players, meaning they played guitars with a piece of steel. Slide players. Which means that they were side players, playing second to their more popular band mates: Earl Scruggs, John Hartford, and every country singer you’ve ever heard. Jerry Douglas is the only slide player that really gained a spotlight of his own, though the style of playing traces a long line through popular music and international geography—it comes from Hawaiian styles, though the Dobro was created by Slovakians: the Dopyera brothers, John and Emil.
Because we only seem to know about slide playing tangentially, rather than straight on, there’s a bit of mystery within it, and that mystery is at heart of this recording by Andy Hall and Roosevelt Collier, two slide players that met a few years ago on a music cruise they were both hired to perform on. Hall is the Dobro player of the Infamous Stringdusters, and while he plays across genres, his entrée was bluegrass. Collier is a blues player. The tracks on their album Let the Steel Play take in all of that territory and then some. Close to the top of the program they ease us in with a beautifully poetic take on “Maiden’s Prayer.” And then they’re off. There are some sharp edges, and left turns along the way, but it’s a wonderful collection of material. You can get a bit precious and find all those threads in here—rock and the blues, country and bluegrass, Hartford to Hendrix—though better is just to let all the echoes wash over you. In any event, it deserves your attention. Slide playing isn’t really a novelty, after all. Those guys were some of the hardest workers in show business.