Friday, March 21, 2014

Greg Smith and The Broken English

The last couple of years during Couch By Couchwest I was introduced to some great music - and people - from Brooklyn NY. Among them were Matthew and Livia as The End Men and Uncle Leon and The Alibis. Both Brooklyn bands - but distinctly different musical styles and influences.

Recently, another Brooklyn group - with yet another style - hit my radar - Greg Smith and The Broken English (web | Twitter). Ready for spring? If so, many songs from their upcoming release, Ramblin' Roads will put a spring in your step.

Slated for release on April 8, the album is collection of really good songs with a solid diversity of instrumentation. Guitar with a slide. Bass raised to right level in the mix - as are the various elements of the drummer. Acoustic, electric, keys, mandolin, harmonica, ♫ whistling ♫, percussion shaker thing, brushes, etc.

I'm as guilty as anyone about asking "So who do they sound like?" when told about a band with whom I'm not familiar. On the one hand, I'm personally looking for some creativity vs. copying someone else. On the other hand, its more difficult to explain to someone why they should listen and enjoy if you can't label an unfamiliar artist. So while its tough to nail down a specific "sound" by the band, I do hear what seem to many influences such as Ray LaMontagne, Dylan, and The Jayhawks. The 13 songs include a nice mixture of rock, country, and pop sounds as well as fast-paced rocking numbers followed by tender but not trivial ballads. 

After having grown up in western Massachusetts, Smith relo'd to the southern borough of NYC. His compositions reflect a balance of growing up in a rural part of a state and adjusting to life in Bright Lights, Big City.

On most of the songs, Dayna Webber provides wonderful harmony to Smith's lead vocals. In a couple of spots, her harmony along with others in the band almost remind me a Stones prime era when harmonies truly complimented lead vocals vs. competing with them.

I really like that the album sounds like it was recorded as a band - not just a featured front man singing lyrics over a polished yet muted musical track recorded by session stalwarts. The album opens with three strong tracks - musically and lyrically - with Ain't That Bad, Whiskey Breath and Cigarettes, and Living Like A Joker.

Ain't That Bad
Oh heaven help me, I know I ain’t that right
I got a bomb inside my head
And a fire in my heart burning bright
But it don’t shine no light
Its hard to recognize the truth in a world full of lies
Take me back in time
Before the good book was written by design
When all a man would do to clear his mind
Was take a walk, say a prayer and goodnight

Whiskey Breath And Cigarettes
Playing Pot Head Blues in Converse shoes
nuff said

Living Like A Joker - This song caught me from the jump. I loved the early solid groove and vocals. But when the rest of the song climbed aboard, the full sound had me wanting the song to continue as a 10-minute jam session.

Hey, What's The Use - This one is written as if it may be the most personal song of the album. One can feel the tug of staying near home while tearing away to dig the dream elsewhere.

 Son, I hope you're doing fine down in the city, life must be sublime
I couldn’t take it there, all the cars and people everywhere
I hope to see you soon.
Back on the farm sometime before the next blue moon
Mom, I’m tryin' hard to get somewhere, I’d like to help you there
I work my fingers to the bone
I sing my heart out till my blood runs cold
The hope inside my veins don’t stop from bleedin'
Every single time it rains

Losing Hand - OK, so its a video with too much crowd chatter. But that's not the fault of the band or the song!

Nowhere Left To Hide
Sing it again - Like kids at play on an old tire swing
Bring it again - Everything we knew ever since we did
Get lucky again - Let the dice roll down a road of sin
And sing it again - Till there's nothin' left to win.

Way Back Down - I really like this one! Staccato diction to lyrics without being rap. The song's drum and guitar opening reminded me a bit of Robert Earl Keen's Shades of Gray but the pace of singing then reminded me of Todd Snider's Incarcerated. Yet the song has absolutely nothing to do with either. Make sense? Yeah, I was afraid you'd say that.

Oak n' Ashes - Possibly my favorite track from the album. This is the one where I seem to hear an influence of The Jayhawks. A harp openin' almost always kills.

City life and the tricks they deal
Keep me up all night like a spinning wheel
I ain’t fixin’ to hold up here
I might be broken down but I’m still shiftin’ gears

Like oak before the ash, strike before the gold
Throw my whiskey in the trash, I won’t need it anymore
When I sing this song about you and hope that I ain’t lost
The place where I came up, before the road that I have crossed

Little Darling - Dayna shares lead vocals on this tender one.

Play Like A Little Girl - One of the 'poppier' tunes from the album and one that contrasts well with other styles of the remaining songs.

Spare Me Eliza - The closer

Top to bottom, Ramblin' Road is going to be fun one to listen to repeatedly. I'm really pleased too that the band performed twice at this year's Couch By Couchwest.


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