Riding high on their success in front of their biggest audience to date at Cropredy, as well as playing a host of other festivals, Americana duo Smith & Brewer are having a good year. For everyone who’s been enjoying their performances, Live 16/12/2017 provides a chance to take the magic home and skitch the coat-tails of summer a little longer.
Even though this soft-launch album is not the band’s main-feature release this year, it’s worthy of an honourable mention. Recorded before a live audience on a wintry December night in The Plough pub in Shepreth, near Cambridge, the album gives a solid representation of the duo’s live set and sound, with a crisp, clear audio quality that keeps the tight harmony vocals and guitars in sharp focus.
Four songs will already be familiar from their Ben Smith & Jimmy Brewer EP, including a slightly more leisurely version of the delicious ‘Blow Wind Blow’, the uplifting ‘Isabella’ and intense ‘Beaten Track’.
Smith & Brewer seem to specialise in writing songs where a light touch in melody, harmonies and guitars counterpoints something far bleaker in the subject. The sunny, chilled vibes of ‘A Lovely Day For Doing Nothing’ hide a heart of darkness, “lately all my food’s delivered, in little boxes I forget to throw away”, and the bright guitars of ‘A Better Man’ belie self-doubt, “I have always thought you deserved a better man”.
Love, in all its aspects, is very often the subject matter, and on ‘Better Than Your Father’, Smith’s beautiful hymn to his son, it’s a pragmatic wish-list, “may you not pick up bad habits, I’ll try not to give you mine”. Yet even as the chirpy country of ‘Life’s Too Short’ coldly throws out “if she wants to leave you for somebody new, then let her”, it also features some gorgeously warm intricate picking. Along with the insistent, rolling blues of ‘Julietta’ with its frenetic guitar interplay there’s no doubting just how seriously good Smith & Brewer are and how compactly they work together.
Live 16/12/2017 certainly captures the Smith & Brewer sound and, despite the slightly disorientating “Happy Christmas” sign-off (give it a few months, it’ll be relevant again), it will help keep summer in mind until they drop their full studio album, due later in the year.
Artist website: www.smithandbrewer.com
‘Life’s Too Short’ – live at Cropredy: