Steelesque’s Song Swan Goes The Distance by Elisabetta Croce
Song Swan, the latest release from Pittsburgh-based Steelesque, is equal parts homage and experiment. The 4 track EP is exemplary of the band’s unparalleled genre-melding ability, one which finds strength in heavy hooks, unexpected transitions, and immense sonic range. While influence is alive and well in Song Swan, the sound is anything but derivative. Frontman and songwriter Rob Eldridge is no stranger to pushing the envelope. The EP is the band’s third release following 2017 album Toro Toro and 2012 debut EP Johnny On the Spot. Eldridge sings and plays guitar and Wurlitzer with Eric Drake on lead guitar, Jerry Courtney on bass guitar, Ron Castelluci on percussion, Bruce Virtue on drums, and Sam Baldigowski on pedal steel and lap steel. Song Swan seamlessly blends elements of jam band funk, indie blues, and rowdy rock and roll for a distinct, sensational sound.
On the opening track, “Waive It,” Steelesque keeps it loose and liquored up with bouncy guitar riffs, heavy with distortion. Eldridge’s hoarse, smoky vocals add a rough and tumble vibe to the track’s otherwise jam band style twang. Keeping it low with a kind of with-me-or-against-me raunch, he sings, “I know it may seem a little rude now—I ain’t the boy that likes to wait.” Bluesy interludes dissolve into heavy guitar solos as backup vocals enter in for the song’s refrain, “waive it.”
The assuredness of “Waive It” drum rolls into uncertainty with “Horses Trampled.” An indie-rock drum beat overlaid with cymbal rolls suddenly breaks into a gallop: a staccato cowbell paired with a muffled riff. As Eldridge sings, “Horses, they trampled inside my head / I can’t let go of the things that you say”, subtle synth enters, imposing an uneasy, psychedelic quality on the lyrics and adding a little of Q Lazzarus’s “Goodbye Horses” to “Horses Trampled.” The early transitions foreshadow the paranoia-fueled fusion of classic rock and slight moments of synth-rock. Uptempo guitar riffs punctuated with exclamations of “woo!”, “come on, run!”, “run baby!”, give the track a fierce, unbridled quality. The last minute abandons earlier uncertainty in favor of a big-bodied guitar solo with tight, squeaky riffs and a few eerie bends that fade out stampede-like. “Trampled Horses” is an example of sonic reckoning at its finest.
“Gunslinger” is a true last stand, opening up in a cascade of tinkling chimes, hazy and mirage-like. Wailing guitar chords trail off as the listener is dropped into a jam session where Eldridge enters with smoky, conversational vocals. The badass lady sharpshooter anthem is a tribute to American frontierswoman Calamity Jane: “Woah she’s a gunslinger / not afraid of anything.” The track opens up as Drake’s (lead guitar) slower, melodic bends give way to yet another unmatched, homage-paying, uptempo guitar solo. The last two minutes of the EP demonstrate not only the band’s raw talent, but also their faithfulness to old school rock and roll. Steelesque reminds that experimentation is the product of a vast array of cross-genre influence; the result is a sonically surprising EP that doesn’t hold back. Song Swan is ultimately a testament to Eldridge’s ability to evoke a kind of auditory synesthesia by way of an original, electrifying, sensational sound. Steelesque has carved out their place in the Pittsburgh music scene, opening for heavy hitters like The Sheepdogs, Cracker, White Denim, Edgar Winter, The Fixx, and Big Country. Song Swan furthers the band’s already expansive catalog of Americana summer anthems that you’ll certainly want to hear live (whenever that may be).