One of the nice surprises of Adele’s last tour was a cover she performed by a band most of her fans surely didn’t know. “If It Hadn’t Been for Love” had been recorded by the SteelDrivers, a contemporary bluegrass band based in Nashville, and the British pop singer had a ball injecting it with her signature take on blue-eyed soul.
It was a worthy plug for a group that deserved a broader audience. After a series of members left the lineup and were replaced, the SteelDrivers bounced back last week with the release of their third album, “Hammer Down,” out on Rounder Records. It’s a classic mix of country tropes — honky-tonk shuffles to tear-in-your-beer ballads — with a healthy dose of bluegrass showmanship.
The band is one of the main attractions at this weekend’s Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, happening Friday through Sunday at the Sheraton Framingham.
We recently caught up with frontman Gary Nichols to see how the group weathered lineup changes to make its strongest album yet.
SteelDrivers, Steep Canyon Rangers, the Seldom Scene
Q. You joined the band as its singer and principal songwriter in 2010. What attracted you to the SteelDrivers?
A. Honestly, I became a fan from the first listen. It was the honesty and purity of the music as well as the lyrics. It sounded like a real band. In a lot of music we have today, there’s a lot of effects and trickery with the recording process. You can tell when listening to the SteelDrivers that that’s not the case. It’s a raw band, and there’s not much glitter sprinkled on it. It is what it is. That really jumped out at me.
Q. As the new guy, did you feel daunted by the prospect of writing for the group?
A. I didn’t want to necessarily copy what had been done before. I just wrote songs with people I connected with, and they just happened. We say this a lot when we’re out: Our music is supposed to be uneasy listening, when bad things happen to good people. As long as you’ve got that, it doesn’t matter if it’s whiskey, jail, or murder.
Q. How much mileage did you get out of Adele’s public support?
A. That’s hard to say. It’s immeasurable to have an endorsement from such an amazing person and artist. We’ve definitely seen a boost in our YouTube plays and downloads.
Q. How did she discover you guys?
A. This is hearsay, but from what I can remember, I think her bus driver passed off a copy of our album.
Q. Did you like her cover of “If It Hadn’t Been for Love”?
A. I thought it was brilliant. One of my favorites, for sure.