Country and Western is the kind of genre people tend to love or hate; the sound of a weeping pedal-steel and a sorrowful acoustic guitar provoke in some a reaction of visceral, unexplainable hate. Personally, Country music, or, more accurately, American folk music, holds a special place in my musical world. It conjures up a place of cinematic vistas, barren dustbowls and relocates the American Dream in the harsh reality of age-old, unchanging poverty. This kind of music is about as far away from the Nashville mainstream as you could imagine; it's the America documented by Harry Smith on his Anthology Of American Folk Music, and it's the sound more recently adopted by alternative-Country types such as Lambchop, Will Oldham and the Pinetop Seven. This, my friends, is not Garth Brooks.
It's hard to guage where London's Smith Garrett Band fit in with all this, however. Is it possible for a few music obsessives from London who presumably have no knowledge of the American heartland to create successful Country music? On the basis of this short debut, it certainly is.
The trick lies in dropping any pretence at being 'alternative' Country; this music is as far away from the Country-tinged atmospherica of Calexico as it is from vacuous Nashville glitz. Instead, the Smith Garrett Band have turned to the likes of Gram Parsons as the basis of their sound, using one of the richest and most simple of musical forms as a vehicle for what is often great songwriting.
As such, much of this album is addictively melodic; the undulating rhythm and seductive vocal harmonies of 'Take Me Lord I'm Ready Now To Leave' are an undoubted highlight, all plaintive melancholy and sweeping fiddle.
It is certainly true that the album is overwhelmingly traditional in it's approach to Country music, but in a world where the corrupted commercialism of the Nashville sound has turned so many away from the Country and Western genre, this can, for now, only be a good thing. The difficulty, of course, lies in repeating such a limited palette over the course of further releases. I'm happy that the Smith Garrett Band are keeping the trad-Country flame alive, but ultimately it's the work of the genre's innovators (Calexico, Pinetop Seven, The Geraldine Fibbers) who lay the legacy for future travellers of the dusty American highway....
6Tom Eyers's Score