The actor-turned-muso duo of Sam Misner and Megan Smith return with their fifth album, headwaters, due for release on June 25th, although it has been available in the States since October 2017. It is a little bit different from previous offerings such as Seven Hour Storm or Poor Player, and what exactly makes it different, is the fact that this one is entirely comprised of raw, laid-back cover versions from works by Paul Simon to ‘Talking Heads’.
Sounding weirdly Paul Simon-esque in his vocal (at times), Sam Misner takes the lead on ‘America’, followed by a straight forward, but effective, rendition of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’ ‘Return of the Grievous Angel’. Indeed, the fact that both of these numbers were originally released as duets, only adds to the strength of these opening tracks; presenting the listener with a new version of something recognisable, but something that is also in-keeping with the Misner and Smith sound.
Following a very stripped-down arrangement of the Neil Young-penned, ‘Expecting To Fly’, we are gifted with Patty Griffin’s ‘Making Pies’; a reflective piece of everyday life, written from the female perspective, and the only song on the album in which Megan takes the lead vocal. If the album’s arrangement of ‘Coconut Grove’ isn’t exactly a million miles away from its 1966 original, the re-work of Talking Heads ‘City Of Dreams’, couldn’t be more different.
There are two particularly strong recordings which conclude the album; The Band’s ‘It Makes No Difference’ (a Misner and Smith live staple) and ‘Turning the Century’, by contemporary writers Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken, of ‘Dr Dog’ fame.
Bowing out at just eight songs, it is not a terribly long album, but it is noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, from the listener’s point of view, it is a recording which is both enjoyable and somewhat unusual. Secondly, from the viewpoint of Sam Misner and Megan Smith, it is an important acknowledgement of the songwriters and musicians, past and present, who inspire and shine the guiding light upon the duo’s own musical journey.
Christopher James Sheridan
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‘It Makes No Difference’ – live: