SMEED IS “LEAVING AGAIN”
There is a tension in this collection of tunes which pulls me and you in and holds our attention. Artists that are a delight to hear and watch in a live performance can be transformed, in good and not so good ways, in recordings. This song cycle by Sky Smeed catches us in mid-stride listening to his earlier CDs which have become constant companions on the road and in the rotation of tunes that is constantly playing in my head either through the ether or just memory. Rooted in the southeastern Kansas Folk, Blues, Country, and Rock traditions his creations of Americana music are exceptional, delightful and passionate. Sky is patient with his music and songs. While some artists whiz through songs in a Dylanesque fashion leaving an array of near misses in their wake, Smeed takes the time and effort of learning the nuances of his own songs and interacts with them until they become, very simply, part of him and who he is and what he presents on stage and in recordings. He is an amazing song writer, but perhaps more importantly he is a deliberate and finessed song interpreter. He finds the heart of songs, which others might leave buried in the lyrics or music, and brings their beauty to our senses. The passion which he brings to his stage performances can also be felt in these recordings. Our thanks is due, we learn in this CD, to Mrs. Veredigere for teaching Sky to trust his ears. We all are the beneficiaries.
The title cut, “Leaving Again” is in the spirit of hopeful melancholy that he is able to capture so well and harkens back to tunes like “Disappear” (from Sky’s Lunker Bass CD) and suits us when we are driving alone past endless snow covered cornfields. If you like Jack Johnson’s rock folk tunes you will really enjoy “Already Miss You” which is another melo and optimistic tune which will speak to any and all who spend to much time away from the one they love.
The hard core protest of the classic folk genre is exposed in “If You’re Taught You Learn to be Mean”. We have come far enough as a nation and a people to recognize our sins and to know that black lives matter. Teaching our children is a sacred trust and we cannot be complacent when that goes wrong. Some aspects of our history are not to be forgotten, but there is no excuse for perpetuating hate. This song speaks to this key issue of growing a better society.
Even John Prine usually sings a cover song during his live shows. This is not because he runs out of tunes or doesn’t have enough of his own songs to play. No. It is because of the depth of his gratitude and admiration for his fellow singer-songwriters, past, present and future. It is simply acknowledgment of debt to those we have learned from and admire. Sky’s “thanks to the world of music” cover tune on this CD is, Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”. Beautifully done and this rendition will make Prine proud.
The comic element in Smeed’s song writing is something we have grown to appreciate and admire in his prior tunes such as “Smoke and Spice”, “Medical Marijuana Blues”, “Won’t Go to Work”, and “Bumper Sticker”. On this album we find “North Shore Trail”. If you happen to catch a live show when all his running buddies are hollering in the front row, you will delight even further in the layered meanings and spirit of this tune.
Also in the folk tradition is the taking of something old and cherished and making it new or into something different and even more special. “Sally” is a tune which Sky has been playing a while and which we learn is based on a poem his dad wrote decades ago. This is an absolutely beautiful combination of talents and a great companion to “Lunker Bass” (from Sky’s previous Lunker Bass CD) which is quality slice of life and very poignant song about Sky’s adventures with his father. This song, too, would have made his father proud, and would probably make him cry.
The collision of music making strategies, Rock, Blues, Rap, Hip-Hop Folk, Country is interesting, intriguing, and important in the history and future of music. Hayes Carl captures that in his “For the Sake of the Song.” Sky’s “Wanker Blues” makes me think of the cross-over diverse music of our heroes such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan who are just as comfortable and expansively creative in the diverse musical arenas of Folk and Rock and whatever we want to call all those in-betweens. This tune speaks to how much fun it is and how enjoyable to witness and listen to the rowdy Rock and Blues varieties of Sky’s music. If you have an opportunity to hear an electrified Smeed show, you better do it as you are in for a genuine treat. It is just fun expressed through amazing music. This tune is part of that experience of being electrified.
The final track on this CD (like all of Sky’s CDs this one is too short, we just want it to keep going!) is one that will be on Sky’s greatest hits collection whenever that comes out. This tune, “Without Music” is classic great Smeed stuff. Like all his work, this comes from real life and perhaps from a toast which his father-in-law made when digesting the hard fact that his daughter was marrying a musician! He challenged us to ponder a world without music. Perhaps not one we would want to witness, one that would be hard to imagine or enjoy. We do enjoy this world, mostly. And the parts of my days which are the very best are when listening to amazing music and songs, to songs of Sky Smeed. This song is a keeper, you will want to hit the “repeat” button.
This is the third CD of Sky’s produced by Mike West in the 9th Ward Pickin’ Parlor. Tasteful, balanced, and like the others a delight to the ears. Those helping out on this album include Mike West, Katie West, Taylor Babb, Dave Melody, John Svoboda and Rachel Allai. Guitarist John Svoboda suggested that Sky’s last CD (on which John did not play) was “perfect”. He is probably correct, but that does not mean Sky had done his best work and is now just coasting. Not at all. Sky is getting better and his interpretations of his previous songs is getting better, which I find truly amazing. This CD is a beauty and stands alone very well. It is fun though, that you can also mix it right in with those prior CD collections of tunes “Drive All Night” and “Lunker Bass” (and “Mill River”, and “Sky Smeed”) and have a perfect mix of comic, heartfelt, melancholy, hopeful, hard hitting, and spirited tunes. You can not invest in a better CD in this neck of the woods or along any other trail. You don’t want to be “Without [this] Music”.
If you can catch a live show you better do it. Sky has the ability to take a song he has played on stage a hundred times and make it better. I don’t know how this works or how it is possible. I have never witnessed even a hint of burnout or boredom in Sky’s performances or recordings. He sings his crowd pleasing songs which we have come to know and love as if they were newly rediscovered old friends. This is not a slick and polished veneer like we hear from pop tunes out of Nashville, but the soulful patient nurturing of a master who seems himself to sometimes be surprised when he is singing a piece of his heart and his Guild guitar is in perfect tune. - Jack Hofman, Poet
“Smeed’s own grin has the power to start plenty of parties.” – Mike Warren, No Depression
“He has the ability to convey what can be complicated emotional territory simply and organically.” - Diana Griffin Ennis, DJ 90.1 KKFI
“Drive All Night is likely the best feel-good indie album to come out of Kansas in 2015.” - Currentland
“…a poignant, foot-stomping good time sprinkled with sentimental moments and allusions to not-so-illegal smiles.” - RedDirtNation.com