Album Review – The Steel Woods – “All Of Your Stones”
Years before the formation of the hard-charging Southern rock band The Steel Woods—before they would released two critically-acclaimed albums, go on tour opening for folks like Miranda Lambert and Dwight Yoakam, and form a strong and loyal fan base—the idea of forming a band that would take the best elements of country, Southern rock, and heavy metal, and combine them with the songwriting sense of the greatest Nashville composers dwelled as a vision and dream in the mind of the band’s founding guitarist and songwriter Jason “Rowdy” Cope.
Making it become a reality took many years. Cope was busy being the touring guitarist for Jamey Johnson, and producing and playing on albums from artists like Brent Cobb and Lindi Ortega. He moved out to Los Angeles for eight years before moving to Nashville, and as he continued to grow older, almost missed his opportunity to create his dream band. It was a chance meeting, and a dare with singer and guitarist Wes Bayliss 13 years his junior that finally saw the formation of The Steel Woods, who roared onto the scene in 2017 with their debut album Straw in the Wind, and immediately became a preeminent force in independent country and Southern rock.
This all set the table for the writing and recording of what’s now the band’s third album All of Your Stones. With their first record, The Steel Woods were looking to introduce themselves to the world, and establish their sound. With their second album—the ambitious 15-track Old News that included numerous cover songs from the country, rock, and metal worlds—they drew in an even deeper audience.
But now that The Steel Woods had our rapt attention, were renown in the industry, and had proven their musical concept to be resonant, it was time for the ultimate vision for The Steel Woods that Rowdy had dreamed up all those years before to be fully realized in their third album, and what they consider to be their opus. Then after putting the finishing touches on the record—and only weeks away from revealing it to the public—the unthinkable news came down. Jason “Rowdy” Cope had been found unresponsive in his home in Nashville.
You can’t listen to All of Your Stones without considering Jason Cope’s passing at the age of 42. It may sound like a cliche to say contextualizing the songs within this tragic news results in an entirely different experience that eerily speaks to a prescient awareness of Rowdy’s impending passing, but that’s exactly what happens in one turn after another on this album, and in a way that will shake you to your very core.
Whether it’s one of the early singles from the album “Out of the Blue,” the song “Old Pal” about a best friend that’s passed and mourned, “Baby Slow Down” that’s the pleading of a mother to her son to be more careful and delivers the line “There ain’t nothing worse on planet Earth, than a mother laying rest to what she gave birth,” in song after song, and line after line, All of Your Stones strikes chills down your spine and soul knowing that the now deceased Jason “Rowdy” Cope wrote these words, brought perhaps to an emotional apex with the slow, quiet, and lamenting “Run on Ahead” that is hard to stay composed through, even if you had no idea who Rowdy was before.
Even the title All of Your Stones seems pertinent to the circumstances. Upon the passing of Rowdy, the inevitable rumors upon his cause of death swirled. If you’re a music fan, you’ve seen this script play out many times before. Musician is found dead in their home, with no signs of foul play or a struggle. Often, drug overdose or suicide is the cause. There should be no shame for anyone even if these are the conclusions upon someone’s death from what we know now about mental health today and the stresses and isolation so many have been suffering through over the last year, and musicians especially. But for Rowdy, these assumptions were false.
Over the last few years, Jason “Rowdy” Cope had been battling complications from diabetes. He even left the band briefly in 2018 after the diagnosis to get his health issues under control. Though he’d had his excessive dalliances with intoxicants in the past, the diabetes issue necessitated he clean up, or it could cost him his life. Ultimately, it did anyway, but not after Rowdy had become sober, and delivered the album he’d been dreaming to make for a decade or more.
It’s not just life intersecting with art through coincidence or circumstance that makes All of Your Stones so powerful, Rowdy knew his days could be numbered due to his condition. He’d had to face his own mortality and the thought of a world without him in it, and that’s what he wrote into this work. But it isn’t just the words. The progressive complexity of the guitar work on this record is exceptional. These aren’t just your average pentatonic exercises, but expertly-composed arrangements Cope wrote for this record, that arguably match the inspiring work of his lyricism.
And All of Your Stones doesn’t solely focus on matters of life and death. There’s also ample songs of love and heartbreak like “You’re Cold,” and “I Need You” featuring vocal contributions from Ashley Monroe. It’s in these moments where lead singer Wes Bayliss shines especially, though really throughout the entire record Bayliss takes the role of being the voice of Rowdy’s words with an incredible sense of reverence and duty, and delivers one soulfully-packed vocal performance after another that meets or exceeds the weight inherent in the words written both both himself and Rowdy.
After deeply considering All of Your Stones, it is fair to characterize it as an opus, and not just from the desire to speak fondly of the deceased. It’s also fair to say that compared to their previous records—especially their last one Old News with so many recognizable cover songs—All of Your Stones may not be their most accessible. It’s probably their most resplendent and well-orchestrated. But it may be a little too much for some that crave more straight ahead Southern rock, or three chords and the truth.
Regardless, All of Your Stones symbolizes a triumph of spirit, and a realization of a dream and vision. Whether Jason “Rowdy” Cope knew in some cosmic way that his time was limited, or the words and real-life circumstances intersected in some instances solely due to coincidence, he made this record like it could be his last, pouring every once of his soul into it, while being aided and assisted exceptionally by Wes Bayliss, bassist Johnny Stanton, and drummer Isaac Senty, assuring Rowdy’s musical legacy will resonate on planet Earth for many years beyond his physical presence.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8.5/10)
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May 14, 2021 @ 8:50 am
I had high expectations for this album and even then they were blown away. I’ve already listened to the album twice and I’m sure there will be more times this will get played. “You never came home” and “Run on Ahead” both hit hard for me. Can’t wait to see these guys this year finally!
May 14, 2021 @ 10:24 am
I Need You is my favorite Skynyrd song. They did a solid job covering.
May 14, 2021 @ 10:33 am
LOVE the bluesy sound on I Need You.
Can see listening to this on a long drive, when you kind of get into the zone in the afternoon, & then again later that night, when you are still driving
May 14, 2021 @ 12:05 pm
I’m not crying, you’re crying :’(
What an amazing album to forever memorialize such a great musician.
May 14, 2021 @ 12:40 pm
When I heard Cody’s podcast with Wes as his guest Cody was saying he’d heard the album and we were gonna love it. Even that being said this has far surpassed any expectations I might have had. Every song is a winner and Wes’ vocals just soar, best in the Southern rock genre current crop in my opinion. I’m sure this will be in the discussion for AOTY. They were just gettin their wheels back under em a few weeks ago when I saw em and I think only played one new song. These are gonna sound great live.
May 14, 2021 @ 1:21 pm
My favorite album so far this year. “You Never Came Home” should be in the discussion for Song of the Year IMO and the album will definitely be at least an Essential Album. Love the Skynyrd cover also.
R.I.P. Rowdy and God Bless The Steel Woods!
May 14, 2021 @ 1:36 pm
Y’all know “I Need You” is a Skynyd cover, right?
(And a well done one, I might add.)
May 14, 2021 @ 1:57 pm
Their best album yet. Really like I Need You with Ashley Monroe. Too bad she had no songs like this on her album.
May 14, 2021 @ 2:29 pm
As a country music fan first and foremost, I’d say sonically this is actually their most accessible record. Country elements are front and center throughout. My favorite Steel Woods album so far, and a definite AOTY contender.
May 14, 2021 @ 7:45 pm
What was Jason “Rowdy” Cope’s cause of death?
May 14, 2021 @ 8:22 pm
Did you read the article?
May 14, 2021 @ 8:49 pm
May 15, 2021 @ 5:43 pm
Yeah, see below. I posted it immediately but I guess your piercing eyes caught it before it was posted. Thanks for the having my back Trigger. Some people are sooooo touchy. Must be a Maren Morris fan.
I have followed The Steel Woods since 2017. Great band.
May 14, 2021 @ 7:48 pm
Sorry I missed part of the write-up. My bad.
May 15, 2021 @ 7:50 am
Beautiful album from start to finish. The acoustic touches, including fiddle and piano, help flesh out the seasons alongside the expected searing Southern rock. And throughout, the vocals from Wes are like the wind, driving the emotions.
There’s an apocryphal quote attributed to Martin Luther, that if he thought the world was to end tomorrow, he’d still plant a tree today. I’d like to think of this album as Rowdy’s tree, and that The Woods will continue to flourish into the future.
May 15, 2021 @ 12:25 pm
I will add that cut one, “Intro”, does sound kinda like a Cobb recording..
May 15, 2021 @ 8:17 am
Fantasic review and great album. The information around Rowdy’s situation provides important context around the songs.
It reminds me a bit of Gregg Allman’s final album which I thought was very good on it’s own, but knowing the backstory of his state when he pulled it together made it my favorite of his solo career. This album is similar in that sense.
May 15, 2021 @ 8:59 am
Very good album. Just ordered it and will have to give their previous two albums some more attention.
May 21, 2021 @ 5:10 am
Been digging Old News as well. For starters, really like their take on Black Sabbath’s Changes. Quality cover that adds something to the song.
May 15, 2021 @ 10:52 am
Got stuck in standstill traffic on the way home yesterday and gave this one a play through.
Great album, superior writing. “Ole Pal” blew me away.
They’re scheduled to come through my town this fall. I might go ahead and pick up tickets soon. They seem like they have a sound built for live shows.
May 16, 2021 @ 5:18 am
“Ole Pal” is a great song. Just sucks you in. Dobro is a nice touch.
May 16, 2021 @ 7:54 pm
That’s the truth.
That song in particular, with their sound reminds me of peak DBT, where you get so into the story being told and it’s so well written that you almost forget that it’s a song you’re listening to.
May 15, 2021 @ 3:56 pm
In Nashville now. Was at the album release party last night. They played the entire album! Audience loved it. Second half of the show was the songs they are known for and thats what got the party going. Axe brought down the house. Let the Rain Come Down , likewise.
Wes Bayliss voice just gets better all the time. New guitarist is pretty good too. Packed out Nashville Palace last night, i would call it a success. Brilliant band.
May 15, 2021 @ 6:56 pm
Whoa. Album of the Year in the clubhouse. This is some good shit.
May 16, 2021 @ 7:29 pm
Saw them at Southernmost stage at Mile 0 . Blew me away.
May 20, 2021 @ 1:47 pm
I dig it. Gettin’ choked up in parts, especially “Ole Pal”. Oof. Love the incorporation of that “djent” metal riff on the outro of “You’re Cold”. So unusual for a band in this genre to do that, but it fits nice. I wish that outro was much longer, actually. The guitar part fades out into the string part way too quick.
May 21, 2021 @ 12:54 pm
This band is a straight up metal band….. Change My Mind
July 24, 2021 @ 6:14 pm
Can’t do that because I’m with you. Tiny moments of Maiden influence, Djent moments that almost sound like Metallica riffs. Not to mention the production, which at least as far as the drums are concerned, are very metal.
Took me three or four listens but now I absolutely love this album.
May 26, 2021 @ 4:28 am
This is my favorite record of the year so far. Great album and great review!
August 12, 2021 @ 10:19 am
“There should be no shame for anyone even if these are the conclusions upon someone’s death from what we know now about mental health today and the stresses and isolation so many have been suffering…”
Tangential to the topic, but an immensely important note, which sadly often is still little grasped and bears repeating. I appreciate your comment.
The album is everything you said. Stirring.