When writing reviews, there are times when I struggle to start because I'm not sure how to find the good in something. It requires work and really focused listening to pull the gold out of the coal that I can be presented with. But other times, I press play and listen and then repeat. It doesn't happen often, but there is just some times when the music I'm hearing hits me so hard in just the right place that I have to stop what I'm doing and just listen. This is one of those times.
Stephen Smith is a songwriter from Brisbane, Australia and he's responsible for the best recording I've been able to review here this year. His music is folk rock of the best kind, full of the rootsy grit and almost swagger that comes with rock music but also vulnerable. My favorite part of his approach to writing and recording is that he hasn't chosen to release an EP that sits right in there with every other folk release that seems to be appearing, all banjoes and 4-on-the-floor drum beats. Instead, this feels a lot like a Ray Lamontagne album with energy.
Take Your Time hits you right from the start as Smith sings, "She's got a demon in her head" in a song about staying by your "Lover's Side" because you know the demon isn't her. "Take Your Time" has one of the catchiest choruses I've heard outside of Top 40 radio while retaining a hint of melancholy that a lesser writer would turn into depressing drivel. As good as Smith's songs are, though, they really come to life with the band he put together to perform them. The rhythm section is perfectly in sync while the lead guitars don't scream for your attention. They play so well with the piano, creating the perfect amount of ornamentation and keeping the music from becoming crowded. That dynamic really comes into play on "Calloused Hands,” where each instrument gets equal ear-space - even the harmonica.
The EP continues strong through to the end with "All I Can,” another just-this-side-of-melancholy tune that could so easily be so depressing in all the wrong ways. But rather than going the coffee-shop route and really working the minor chords, Smith uses the power of his melodies to elevate the song to a place that deserves to be heard by as many people as possible.
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