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Seven Pedal Steel Guitar Albums You Should Hear

Absolute torch and twang for jazz fans

As a supplement to our July/August 2020 feature on the pedal steel in jazz, check out these seven twangy collections that are worth your time.

Asleep at the Wheel boxed setAsleep at the Wheel: Still Swingin’ (Capitol, 1994) – This box set contains three CDs: a greatest-hits disc, a Bob Wills tribute, and a 1977 live show that captures an 11-member version of the band at its jazziest, most powerful peak.

Check out Still Swingin’ on Amazon!

Secular Steel coverVarious Artists: Secular Steel (Gaff, 2004) – Elliott Sharp curated this compilation of 18 steel guitarists, demonstrating how far the instrument can be pushed out of its comfort zone. Includes Susan Alcorn, Lucky Oceans, Nels Cline, Henry Kaiser, Eugene Chadbourne, and Sharp himself.

Check out Secular Steel on Amazon!

Campbell BrothersCampbell Brothers: Can You Feel It? (Ropeadope, 2005) – The Campbell Brothers haven’t officially released their version of A Love Supreme yet (though live takes exist on YouTube), so the best place to hear the jazz side of their playing is on this disc, featuring John Medeski as keyboardist and producer.

Check out Can You Feel It? on Amazon!

Bill Frisell: DisfarmerBill Frisell: Disfarmer (Nonesuch, 2009) – This project, one of Frisell’s greatest achievements, features the quartet of himself, Greg Leisz, violinist Jenny Scheinman, and bassist Viktor Krauss. Frisell wrote the music for a retrospective of Mike Disfarmer’s photographs of rural Arkansas, but the elegant, evocative music transcends its source.


Check out Disfarmer on Amazon!


Susan Alcorn: SoledadSusan Alcorn: Soledad (Uma, 2015) – Alcorn’s translation of Astor Piazzolla’s nuevo tango compositions into solo pedal steel pieces showcases the musician at her most lyrical.

Check out Soledad on Amazon!




Charles Lloyd & the Marvels: I Long to See You

Charles Lloyd & the Marvels: I Long to See You (Blue Note, 2016) – The debut album from this lineup (Lloyd, Frisell, Leisz, Reuben Rogers, and Eric Harland) uses several folk songs and Lloyd compositions to show how much legato lift the steel guitar can bring to jazz.

Check out I Long to See You on Amazon!



Peter Brotzmann & Heather Leigh: Crowmoon

Peter Brötzmann/Heather Leigh: Crowmoon (Bandcamp, 2020) – With the help of various effects pedals, Leigh enticingly explores the pedal steel’s spaciness potential, backing up Brötzmann’s gruff pronouncements on various reed instruments.




Geoffrey Himes

Geoffrey Himes has written about jazz and other genres of music on a regular basis for the Washington Post since 1977 and has also written for JazzTimes, Paste, Rolling Stone, New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, National Public Radio, and others. His book on Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A., was published by Continuum Books in 2005 and he’s currently working on a major book for the Country Music Hall of Fame. He has been honored for Music Feature Writing by the Deems Taylor/ASCAP Awards (2003, 2005, 2014 and 2015), the New Orleans Press Awards, the Abell Foundation Awards and the Music Journalism Awards.