Striking original material and a fresh acoustic sound have made Steel Rail a favourite of fans and critics over the last two decades. The band's first three albums received rave reviews in such esteemed folk magazines as Dirty Linen, Sing Out! and Penguin Eggs. A fourth album, Coming Home, was just released.
"They find fresh ways to express universal truths," Dirty Linen said.
"Tying together Steel Rail's evocative songs of love, long-vanished youth and the ceaseless turn of the seasons are cordial three-part harmonies and clean, bright arrangements," Patrick Langston of the Ottawa Citizen wrote.
"One is immediately drawn to the beauty of the lyrics and to the sense of the land that permeates the record," wrote David McPherson in Penguin Eggs.
That sense of the land flows from Steel Rail's deep roots in four Canadian provinces. Tod Gorr grew up near Kingston, Ont., and now lives in the Laurentians north of Montreal. Ellen Shizgal was born and bred in Montreal. Dave Clarke recently returned to his home town of Montreal after spending almost a decade living in Alberta and British Columbia. The result: material that ranges from the wide-open Prairies to deep in the Ottawa Valley and further east to the North Shore of the St. Lawrence River.
It didn't start out that way. The trio were all based in or around Montreal when they came together to play country and bluegrass classics in 1991. "We specialized in Bill Monroe and Hank Williams," Dave says. Soon, however, its members began writing original songs in the folk-country vein, winning comparisons to such legendary Canadian songwriters as Gordon Lightfoot and Ian Tyson. Since then, Steel Rail’s material has been covered by artists like Bill Garrett and Sue Lothrop, Tammy Fassaert and Notre Dame de Grass.
The group has also been acclaimed for its lush harmonies, Dave's stellar picking -- he's been hailed as one of Canada's best acoustic guitarists -- and a sound that gets its sensibility from folk and its soul from bluegrass and old-style country.
"If you were to fuse early Gordon Lightfoot onto current Del McCoury or the Seldom Scene, something very like Steel Rail would emerge," critic John McLaughlin of the Vancouver Province wrote.
Steel Rail has opened for such bluegrass legends as the late Bill Monroe and the Seldom Scene and appeared in folk festivals like the Festival by the Sea in Saint John, N.B., Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ont., the Festival of Friends in Hamilton, the Ottawa Folk Festival and Octoberfolk in Brantford, Ont. The band has also garnered national exposure on CBC radio and been featured in concert on Stuart McLean's Vinyl Café.
Steel Rail has released four albums: Coming Home (2020), River Song (2005), The Road Less Travelled (2000) and A Thousand Miles of Snow (1995). The Road Less Travelled was a finalist in the Country-Roots category of the 2000 Crossroads Music Awards in the U.S., and spent time at the top of the CBC-Galaxie folk-roots radio charts in Canada. The band's debut album, A Thousand Miles of Snow, also garnered critical praise in Canada and the U.S. and airplay on country, campus, community and public broadcasting stations across Canada.