SMITH AND BREWER – Another Shade Of Smith And Brewer (Own Label SMBR01)

Another Shade Of Smith And BrewerSince first being introduced to each other by Joan Armatrading in 2015, Ben Smith and Jimmy Brewer have strode ahead boldly. Another Shade Of Smith And Brewer sees our eponymous duo filling out to a full band for their first proper studio album.

Many of the songs here feel like much-loved old friends, friends with a makeover and now gleamingly buff, toned and muscular. The addition of Eric Lavansch’s drums and Tom Sinnett’s bass has lent another dimension and dynamic to Smith and Brewer’s compositions, allowing for greater meatiness and tonal variety.

But, not so fast. The album is bookended by classic Smith And Brewer duets of two of their finest songs. ‘Isabella’ appears in intimate close up, with its brittle-bright picking and those trademark tightly wrapped harmonies. Later, the melancholically laid-back ‘Lovely Day For Doing Nothing’ will languidly usher us out.

So it’s song two before the difference, the band sound proper, kicks in with a muted drum signalling a subtly reworked ‘Another Shade Of Blue’. More dramatic changes are afoot though, as ‘Life’s Too Short’ takes on a very attractive new aspect as a pacy, energetic rockabilly romp, while hints of the early ‘70s – a homeopathic dose of Allman Brothers, maybe – infuse the American country soft-rock of ‘Favourite Photograph’. (Even the album title, “Another Shade Of…” has a vaguely 70s throwback feel of polo-necked easy listening about it – mercifully not reflected in the contents).

A trio of ‘B’ songs follow. That’s not a comment on quality, they just all begin with the same letter. There’s a strong streak of self-deprecation in the tender ‘Better Than Your Father’, a touching paternal wishing spell and in ‘Better Man’ with its fear of being an undeserving recipient of love. In the middle of this trio, temptation beckons. ‘Blow Wind Blow’, is transformed by a shuffling beat that smoothes the shift between verse and falsetto chorus which marks the central heart vs.head dichotomy of the song.

‘Don’t Say You Don’t Love Me’ sashays along with new power, drawing on bold percussion and African-influenced swagger. On ‘Julietta’, the dense, fluid interplay and occasionally staccato guitars now intertwine over a fast-rolling bassline and ‘Love You Forever’ gains a punchy richness from a brush of drums.

‘Music City’ may signal another kind of shift for Smith And Brewer, who have proven themselves as highly creative lyricists, albeit often focused on love in its many guises. This drily funny tale of the pair’s Nashville trip manages to convey excitements and frustrations equally, all set to a full-steam ahead rocking country blues with a thrusting road-trip bassline. If it’s a new direction, it’s a very promising one.

The new line-up allows for more exploration of Smith and Brewer’s love of Americana, edging them away from Simon & Garfunkel territory and into something altogether more robust. With their, by now, firmly established talents in songwriting, close harmonies and guitar skills, the expansion into a band feels like the next logical step, moving their sound on and giving it room to grow in the future.

Su O’Brien

Artists’ website: www.smithandbrewer.com

‘A Lovely Day For Doing Nothing’:

SMITH AND BREWER – Mumford Theatre, Cambridge (21st April 2018)

Smith And Brewer

It’s surprisingly hard to recall, on this bright sunny Spring day, that a little over a month ago, snow and gales stopped play. Back then, I should have been reviewing Ben Smith and Jimmy Brewer as part of the Cambridge Roots Festival. This afternoon comes my chance to make amends, courtesy of Anglia Ruskin University’s programme of “Lunchtime Sessions”. A mixed audience of students and civvies flow into the theatre’s darkness from the warm sunlight outside.

The artists formerly known as Ben Smith and Jimmy Brewer have recently undergone a, some might say, rather overdue metamorphosis. Now appearing simply as Smith and Brewer, they proudly display the embossed guitar straps bearing their respective surnames. Yes, maybe it does sound a tiny bit like a craft ale, but it rolls off the tongue so much more easily. And I have been known to say it often when evangelising about this pair to anyone within earshot. Not normally Americana/Country’s loudest advocate, I’m utterly beguiled by this duo’s charming blend of close harmonies and melodious songs. It’s an obvious, perhaps even rather tainted comparison to make, but they’re a sort of English Simon and Garfunkel – without the relationship issues, hopefully.

Starting off with ‘Isabella’, a natural classic from their eponymous EP, they motor on through ‘Another Shade Of Blue’ and the vigorous, sassy guitar of ‘Life’s Too Short’. ‘Blow Wind Blow’, another EP track, follows after which Smith leads on a sweetly tender ode to his young son, ‘Better Than Your Father’. As a young artist in the front row makes rapid sketches of them, Brewer delivers some Spanish-tinged guitar with ‘Love You Forever’.

‘A Lovely Day For Doing Nothing’ is another of those instant classics: but despite sounding deceptively like a chilled summer anthem, it’s lyrics are rather gloomier. It’s still not entirely an obvious choice to appear on a Dutch horror movie soundtrack, but do be sure to listen out for it, coming soon to your local Dutch cinema.

It’s not just their facility with melody and harmony; they are richly proficient guitar players too, with a cooperative style that elaborately interweaves Smith’s warmth with Brewer’s steelier tones. Mostly, they look quite relaxed, but their most “guitarry” song, ‘Julietta’ (continuing a tradition of four-syllable female name song titles), features a lengthy, fast and energetic break that illuminates the physicality beneath their playing.

The forceful, lively ‘Favourite Photograph’ follows, and they close with the angular ‘Don’t Say You Don’t Love Me’. Although time hasn’t really been allotted for an encore, such is the crowd appreciation that they return anyway to finally round off proceedings with the gently funk-inclined ‘Hold On’.

A group of students filing out say, “Well, that was really great”, and mean it. It was, really great.

Smith and Brewer’s first album is due to be released later this year.

Su O’Brien

Artist website: www.smithandbrewer.com

‘A Lovely Day For Doing Nothing’: