“I’ve seen Sky Smeed win over audiences all over the U.K. It’s impossible not to fall for his charm, his smile and his wonderful songs.”
— Beans On Toast
“Drive All Night is my favorite release of 2015!”
“Drive All Night is likely the best feel-good indie album to come out of Kansas in 2015.”
“When he plays live, Smeed’s most endearing quality is his smile”
— No Depression
by Mike Warren
On Drive All Night, Sky Smeed evokes that singer/songwriter corner of 1971 that held both John Prine and Steve Goodman’s self-titled debuts. There’s a lot of humor and a comparable gentleness in Drive All Night, but like those two records, there’s also a range of emotion that can sting. Smeed clearly enjoys making people grin, but there are least a few songs here every bit as quietly devastating as Prine’s “Hello In There” or Goodman’s “Would You Like To Learn To Dance.”
Smeed’s hometown is Chanute, Kansas, both metaphorically and literally halfway between Winfield (home of the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival) and Kansas City. The CD was recorded at Truckstop Honeymoon’s 9th Ward Pickin’ Parlor in Lawrence, with that duo’s Mike West producing and adding banjo and mandolin and Katie West providing bass and aching background vocals . Smeed plays out constantly, but generally solo, so it’s a gift to hear the songs rounded out with a full band. (Bradford Hoopes’ Hammond organ definitely adds to the 1971 feel).
When he plays live, Smeed’s most endearing quality is his smile, and like all good smiles, it hides some hurt--maybe a lot of hurt. As Drive All Night unfolds, it’s clear that songwriting is the place where he retreats to let some pain unspool. “I Don’t Know What To Do,” for instance, describes a melancholy winter walk, a man mulling over a break-up that just won’t go away. Describing a walk in the frigid air, Smeed sings “I felt the ice/under my boots/Let myself fall/because what’s the use.” It’s a song about an absolutely lonely man completely stuck in place, and it’s a heartbreaker.
Still, even Smeed’s most melancholy songs hold hope. “Tell Me Now,” an almost-whispered ballad about the moment when she’s set to leave (“You got your suitcase by the door/your keys are in the car”) that ends with the request to tell him what he can do to make things right—and the possibility she just might pocket those keys and come on in. “Hanging On,” about a relationship full of mistakes, emphasizes actually hanging on, not the “just barely” part. In “Drive All Night” (one of three road songs on this nine-song album—the man travels a lot), Smeed sings about simply working hard to get home, and being oh, so glad to get there.
Smeed’s own grin has the power to start plenty of parties. “Smoke N’ Spice,” a Kansas City love song in the form of a personal ad seeking “ a real good woman who can cook that barbecue,” gleefully celebrates “spongy white buns” and “short walks to the refrigerator.” Crowd pleaser “Talkin’ Medical Marijuana Blues” tells the tale of a theoretically naïve young man’s visit to Dr. Kind in Boulder, Colorado to alleviate himself of a certain amount of…let’s call it lethargy (“He said ‘breathe deep’/I want to listen to your soul’”).
There’s a ton of feeling in Drive All Night. It’s great that Smeed could take a few days, at least, to get off the road and let it all out.