Some people are born with itchy feet and troubadour, Steve Smyth is certainly one of them. The one constant in their lives is the need for continual change – making novel discoveries and having new experiences due to an overwhelming curiosity with people and places or just a plain fear of missing out. The other constant on Smyth’s debut LP, Release has got to be coffee and cigarettes because he sounds like he’s used a lot of these in his time.
Smyth had a rustic upbringing on the NSW Coast. He fell out of the womb a wandering soul and his parents knew this because as a child he often had to be tethered to a tree so that he wouldn’t run off. These days it sounds like he is couch surfing in Europe with little more than an acoustic guitar and his powerful voice. The latter instrument contains the smoky gravel typically synonymous with Tom Waits and the weight of experience, while at lighter moments he can also sound like a choir boy (possibly a by-product of his being raised by church ministers) and this can at times verge on sounding like the untouchable, Jeff Buckley.
Smyth has played music for years, having dabbled in punk, folk, rock and gospel, yet for his debut the majority of the ten tracks are about the blues. With the harsh yet beautiful Australian landscape serving as both a muse and backdrop, we hear this rambler sing with a fire in his belly to match the hole in his heart and an at times primal and husky growl. Across 35 minutes the listener is treated to tales about letting go – whether it be for someone who has passed away; the great love that was lost or got away; or simply just the passage of time where you grow up, mature and loose the angst that punctuated your teens.
“Barbiturate Cowboy” goes from being a soft, whispered strum to a grunting hell raiser where two hedonistic cowboys draw and quarter in the Wild West desert. The following, “Barmade Blues” slows things down a notch with a jaunt below a blue sky that would be perfect, save for some big, white clouds. On “Stay Young,” Smyth recruited Juanita Stein (Howling Bells, Waikiki) for a duet. It is a breezy and laidback ballad where Stein’s feminine vocals prove a delightful contrast to Smyth’s more hardened and masculine tones.
There is the single, “Endless Nowdays,” which sounds like it was inspired by Skeeter Davis’ version of “End Of The World”. It also sees a silken coo crossed with distortion and some of The Shadows’ style of guitar-work. The crooning continues into “Midnight In The Middle,” one you could imagine Roy Orbison performing. It was inspired by a drive from Coober Pedy watching the changes in the terrain as Smyth found himself closer to no man’s land. Here he also sings perhaps the best summary of the album: “Midnight in the middle of nowhere and I ain’t got to no place to be”.
Release is a cohesive debut from a songwriter that is already showing a lot of promise. It is honest, yearning, raw and free-spirited – the perfect recipe to relax and float above a glowing campfire in a dusty forest by a tranquil river. It also proves that while this itinerant troubadour has got many more journeys of a thousand miles up his sleeve, in the meantime we can enjoy the tales of his life thanks to a voice that is equally gnarled and honeyed and experiences that sound like they’re from someone with leathered skin. In short it is a sublime embodiment of the quote: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present”.
Originally published on 21 March 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/31954/Steve-Smyth–Release
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