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 – Live 16/12/2017 (Own Label)

Smith And Brewer LiveRiding 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.

Su O’Brien

Artist website: www.smithandbrewer.com

‘Life’s Too Short’ – live at Cropredy:

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’:

Jimmy Brewer – AS TIME STANDS STILL

Jimmy Brewer AS TIME STANDS STILLJimmy Brewer is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist and not your typical acoustic troubadour. Jimmy Brewer has the power to silence a room with little more than an intro. He captures an audience and takes them on an emotional rollercoaster ride, leaving them exhausted, amazed and fulfilled. Fresh from being one of the chosen artists to represent their home town on the 2012 Joan Armatrading UK tour where he performed to a packed house at Northampton’s Derngate Theatre, Jimmy Brewer will now release his debut album entitled AS TIME STANDS STILL.

Growing up in rural Lincolnshire, Jimmy found inspiration amongst his parents’ record collection while his peers were busy with the Spice Girls. Jimmy initially learning to play on a guitar from the Argos catalogue. Obsessively listening and mimicking the dusty old vinyl, Jimmy would often pretend to be ill so that he could stay home from school and listen to artists such as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and…Shakin’ Stevens, artists that were certainly not seen as “cool” for an eight year old to be listening to in 1996.

Fast forward to the present day and those early influences are still his biggest and most important, but with the addition of the old school sounds of Nat King Cole and Fats Domino through to the more contemporary styling of Jeff Buckley. There are hints at the quirkiness of David Bowie, the wit of Jerry Reed and the imagination of Tom Waits, whilst maintaining a Muddy Waters-esque blues feel. This diverse range of influences is very much in evidence on AS TIME STANDS STILL, an album that demonstrates that the craft of classic song writing is still very much alive and well. This debut release is a collection of twelve songs written over the past year and a half, the majority of the album being recorded in a studio on a dairy farm in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.

To quote Jimmy “The idea was to create an album of ups and downs, with a two-sided feel as if it were a record. My favourite albums all have a very clear shape.” Secluded and free from distractions, Jimmy and producer Owain Fleetwood Jenkins often found themselves working solidly for twenty hours a day (apart from when the milking parlour was running), fuelled by endless cups of tea and “the freshest, creamiest milk you will ever taste!”

The mournful, almost medieval sounding ballad Velcro Girl (video below), the heart breaking It Still Aches and the memorial Gordon are contrasted with the nostalgia of Watching Records Go Round & Round and the humorous retrospective Two Inches Taller, a song about being the shortest boy in your class. This album has something which everyone can enjoy, and one listen will prove that you’ll never grow tired of hearing it.

For more information and the latest tour news, please visit http://www.jimmybrewer.co.uk/