Friday, October 9, 2009

My Smooth Kentucky Home

SMOOTH KENTUCKY – “A Few More Miles” CD ’09 (Private, US) – Step up, ladies and gentlemen and gather closely, for without allowing my fingers to ever leave my hands, I am about to reference a 1985 Eurythmics song in a review of a 2009 bluegrass record. Think I can’t do it? And have it make sense? Oh, ye doubting Thomases! Read on….

As has been my habit, and recently with great success, I took a dive into the “local music” section at a Baltimore CD store about 2 weeks ago. When I emerged, I pulled out my regulator, peeled off my wetsuit and took a look at what I had. SMOOTH KENTUCKY – “A Few Miles More.” Tranquil country scene on the cover and a little description in pen scribbled on the price tag: bluegrass. Hmm…. I opened the sweet little LP-sleeve-style cover and began reading. 7-piece band, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, dobro, 2 guys doing lead guitar. Then I let my eyes drift across the songs themselves and my interest was really piqued. See, over the last few years that I’ve embraced the bluegrass genre, I’ve found that an awful lot of bands do covers of traditional pieces. And, this is fine. Bluegrass is a style of music, like folk and Celtic, that’s produced a large number of absolutely timeless numbers. Regardless of how many times it’s been done, you can never have enough of a talented bunch of players and singers having a go at something like Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen.” That one’s been tackled by everybody from The Flying Burrito Brothers to Phish to Buck Owens to Goldie Hawn. Goldie Hawn!?!?! Really. Still, with all of that, I sit up and take note when I see a bluegrass band that writes their own stuff. One of my favourite examples of this are Realm favourites Iron Ridge (having graced my Year End Top 10 more than once). It’s that added spur of flair and originality that made my eyes light up when I noticed that SMOOTH KENTUCKY’s debut is comprised of all self-scribed material, save for a cover of Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me.” So, it was with great anticipation that I pushed the > button on the old Realm-o-Matic.

First song in, Ed Hough’s vocals begin telling of his longing for “Sweet Amanda” over an upbeat, infectious melody and I’m hooked already. The conversational soloing between the guitars, fiddle and mandolin is plentiful but never overwhelms the song, a Hough composition. “Slipstream Abilene” continues the same feel with even a bit more melody. Hough’s voice is really going down nice & easy with a friendly, yet commanding tone. BJ Lazarus (who penned this one…), Cris Jacobs (one of the lead guitarists, along with Jordan Tice) and a trio of guests add harmony vocals that just ring with vibrancy. “Banjo Bend” ups the ante with a headlong pace and jamming between the players that’s riveting. Then we find “I Don’t Mind” gracing our ears with a melody that’s so sweet it’ll be in your mind for months. And, so SMOOTH KENTUCKY continues through the course of this album, with one highlight after another, from the finger-burning instrumental of “Skippin’ Lucy” to the heartfelt ballad of “The Way” and gorgeous album closer, “Halfway Home,” featuring vocals and ivories so poignant that I’m reminded of 7N’s Kirk McLeod’s solo disc, “Solo Piano.”

With all this, however, the track that brought me up short was # 9, “Leavin’ This Old Town.” When this energetic cut, written by Ed Hough, hit it’s chorus, I have to say I haven’t felt such a wave of pure melody rip my heart right out of my chest. See, one of my very favourite melodies (and songs) ever, is a track by the Eurythmics from their 1985 release “Be Yourself Tonight” entitled “There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart).” From the first time I heard Annie Lennox wrap her pipes around that beauty, it became one of my “go to” songs…for any number of occasions. Now, let me make something very clear. The chorus of SMOOTH KENTUCKY’s “Leavin’…” is far from a copy of that tune, but it’s a singular case of something mining a similar melody and using it to stunning effect. Don’t believe me? Listen to each one. Tell me you’ve still got a hair on either of your arms that’s not standing up. That’s beautiful, powerful stuff.

In all, pulling “A Few More Miles” out of that ocean of local CD’s a few weeks back was a shot in the dark, but it’s another on my recent streak of luck that’s hit the bulls-eye. The only thing that’s left is for me to check these guys out live sometime, because I’m sure they can lay it down like nobody’s business. Highly recommended! A Derby Winner


Carl said...

Well, the hairs are up on my arms from your eloquent review of this album. Like you, I had unexpectedly been captivated by this bands music quite a few years ago. I have to admit that while my musical interests run the gamut, I have never favored blue grass. However, the fact that Ed Hough has been a personal friend of mine for many years enabled me to let down my guard, and allow Blue Grass to flow in. The Smooth Kentucky version of this genre, to my albeit limited knowledge, is something very special indeed. As you expressed so well, this group of talented musicians create a chemistry that is most captivating.

I can assure you that seeing and hearing the Smooth Kentucky boys live is a real treat. Their passion for the music can be seen and most strongly felt. One will find their audiences fully engaged in the music, and the joy of the moment. I will look forward to reading your review of one of their live performances.

Thank you for doing such poetic justice to one of Baltimore’s emerging musical gems!

raysrealm said...

Glad you enjoyed the review, Carl, and even better that you have enjoyed this band as much as you have. Great to hear about people being this much into a band's music and having such an understanding of their art. It's what it's all about, really.

raysrealm said...

Carl, I was going to mention that you also may like to check out IRON RIDGE. Fantastic band, all their stuff is highly recommended from these quarters. They're at:

Colleen said...

Hi there, I was wondering if you could tell me who wrote "Won't Stop Looking".

A friend played me the song and I love it, but he bought it off iTunes and doesn't have the jacket.

Any help you could give me would be great!

Carl said...

Colleen, that song was written by Ed Hough & Joe Timmons. If you have not heard the entire albumn, you really need to!