The Santa Barbara, California alternative Americana-country duo Smittee & Bray have been bringing their eclectic brand of music to the greater California area for the past two years. Their latest EP is the five song Never Let Go. Its songs written by Smittee over the last year and represents a moving away from his previous records which were steeped in a more electric guitar focused country twang. The record showcases both members’ talents with Smittee singing and playing piano, guitar, bass, drums and tenor banjo, and Bray playing guitar, dobro, harmonica and banjo. With all this together they have the perfect makings for a slow rolling and reverential folk rock record and that’s pretty much what Never Let Go is.
The opening track “My Old Friend” is a fast and furious folk soaked romp that leans toward the quirkier and, well at times, wittier and funnier facets of folk music. The song with its rhythmic banjo and guitar amped up along with sing-song backing vocals make it rather embraceable if even at times a shaky opening. Then they launch headlong into one of those sad and sappy ballads that are so prevalent that it seems they should come with a single page of instructions on how to put them together. Despite its parallels to so many other slow sad country songs of this type it still has enough oomph to make it enjoyable. Then they launch into the equally parallel “Ramble With the Wind.”
But then comes “Take Me On” a do it yourself country rambler which again delves into that silly almost slapstick mockery that country and folk of this kind can sometimes be. However when the formula works it works and it works for the duo here because their talents really seem to lie in the realm of not trying too hard to write something they assume will be meaningful.
Never Let Go is for the most part a collection of songs about people with problems which is far more fun to listen to when those problems are not your own. Will it hold up in the nationwide museum of country and western folk? Not likely but as a passing breeze comes along to cool you off and then moves on, you’ll likely be thankful for a time that you heard this record.
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