"Just Maybe" album review, 2017

“Just Maybe” by Steel Wool (2017)
A Review by Tobin Mueller

Steel Wool is a socially conscious acoustic rock band from Eugene OR. The band combines environmental and social themes with personal relationship songwriting. Their latest album “Just Maybe” is full of recollections from childhood that buoy and reaffirm, as well as thoughtful lyrics that probe our modern state of affairs. A sense of humor and wry perspective is woven throughout. This, their second album, combines excellent production with fresh conceptual arrangements that range from folk-rock to country-folk to rock ’n roll.

The title track starts off the album, “Just Maybe”. The song frames lyrics about wistful reverie with a velvety acoustic instrumental mix. Tim Mueller’s lead vocals have a smooth David Crosby vibe, equal parts hope and gentle insight, and sits well within the lovely arrangement. (I especially like the variation of falsetto harmonies on the line “I can still remember when I was young”.) The tune runs long, 7:11, giving space to unhurried dreamy bridges that aid the sense of recollection and emotional calm. An excellent opening track that perfectly sets the stage for the next tune…

You’re My Flower…Taireva” unfolds with childlike discovery. Artfully built upon a traditional Zimbawean mbira folk tune underscored with an African mbira continuum (played by Nel Applegate), this is more than a sweet love song. It becomes a journey of awakening to the natural world around us, in the context of our modern age of social media inundation. The track has a magical quality, bursting with the patterns of life that continually blossom. An extended mbira solo at the end makes this the longest track on the album (8:51), designed to encourage one’s commitment to the journey outside the “Facebook zone”. 

The third track harkens back to earlier Steel Wool electric folk rock recordings, with an uptempo yet island/reggae laid back energy. “Froggy” is a clever spin on the environmentalist lament of wilderness lost. A rhythmic groove drives the track, although the backing vocals never quite slot in tightly enough. Bass articulations enliven the tune throughout with understated yet dynamic personality (played by TR Kelley). The extended guitar solo picks up steam with its chill syncopations and hip climax. A nicely executed mid-tempo toe tapper.

The opening musical quote from the television show Bonanza playfully dates the author’s childhood, especially with his reference to Adam Cartwright (who only appeared in the first five seasons of the TV western, 1959-1964). Humor animates the cowboy vocal stylings, yet the song never descends into campiness, becoming more an homage. “This Cowboy’s Heart” pays respect to that sense of freedom and expectation a happy childhood can foster, especially back when becoming a cowboy was every young boy’s dream. Continuing the environmentalist theme, the Ponderosa becomes a self-sustaining ideal that continues to invigorate. The arrangement features a harmonica solo by guest artist Hank Shreve who aptly conjures the campfires of a bygone day.


Breaking with the mellow feel of the album up to this point, the next song “Electro Sheep Therapy” is a straight ahead rock tune out of the The Ventures era, with the quirky edginess of the Batman TV show theme song thrown in. Although the lyrics intend to motivate through funny insults, the arrangement tends toward a Weird Al Yankovic parody. (It even quotes Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” during the electric guitar solo.) I can imagine this song working well as a live get-up-on-your-feet crowd pleaser or a South Park style video.

Speaking of a live crowd pleaser, “Love Is The Power” is the centerpiece of Steel Wool’s live performances, especially at the socially progressive rallies where Steel Wool often performs. This version was recorded “live” in the studio and has an open-air country rock feel. The song was originally written in solidarity with the Native-American activists at Standing Rock (Sioux Reservation in North Dakota) in 2016. An extended version of this track is available as a single on the band’s website.

When The Day Is Done” was recorded live at the W.O.W. Hall (formerly a Woodsmen of the World lodge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places). Adding a socio-political sense of “chaos” to the album’s ongoing environmental theme, the songs asks “Am I the one to blame because I looked the other way?” The tune’s intensity is authentic and engaging. Mueller’s lead vocals have an honest weariness to them at the end, making the song even more poignant. An excellent final statement, both thematically and musically, to this wonderful collection.

A silly 8 second clip of the band “baaing” completes the CD - reminding us that the sheep is Steel Wool’s tongue-in-cheek mascot. The band is: Tim Mueller (lead vocal/guitars; songwriter), TR Kelley (bass, backing vocals), Randy Hamme (drums) Nel Applegate (mbira, hand percussion, backing vocals). The album was recorded and mixed by Randy Hamme at Traxide Studio and mastered at Don Ross Productions.

I highly recommend this album, especially tracks 1-2 and 7. I should also divulge that I am Tim Mueller’s brother, a songwriter and recording artist in my own right. I’ve followed Tim throughout his musical career. “Just Maybe” is, I believe, his (and the band’s) best work. Videos, lyrics and more about Steel Wool can be found at

- Tobin Mueller, Nov. 2017

Order this CD or digital download HERE.




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