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One More Time

by: Bryan Elijah Smith

Album Artwork

(self-released)

After reviewing the quietly excellent Dear Puppeteer by Nathan Moore, I couldn't help but notice that his album had been enhanced by a co-producer, musician, and collaborator named Bryan Elijah Smith.  A quick bit of websearching led me to Smith's own website.  I reached out and Smith graciously sent his latest album to Swampland HQ.  My curious streak was rewarded as One More Time revealed itself as one of 2011's best releases.

But first a little background...

Bryan Elijah Smith is a young Virginia-based songwriter, instrumentalist, and producer.  Smith was born and raised in the small town of Dayton, VA which lies in the Shenandoah Valley near the Virginia-West Virginia border.  This is rural farmland area and Smith proves it in his bio by explaining his time spent working on a dairy farm.  

After a brief time in NYC trying to further his music career, Smith settled back in the Shenandoah Valley area and began a fruitful stretch of recording.  One look at his website and you will see over 8 albums and EPs that Smith has released since mid-2008.  In a recent radio interview, Smith estimates that he has written over 500 songs.

Through all this glorious productivity, Smith has found solid footing on One More Time.  The connection between Smith and Nathan Moore began on Smith's last album Pour On Me.  They recorded "I'm The Same" which also appeared on Dear Puppeteer featuring dual vocals.  This soulful and heartfelt song is a highlight of both those albums.  

Pour On Me, which precedes this release, was Smith's first album to prominently feature the backing duo of the Wild Hearts, Jay Austin on fiddle and Jeff Miller on banjo.  Smith and the Wild Hearts create a unique but familiar acoustic sound that fits Smith's Shenandoah roots.  On One More Time, this trio further hones its sound combining bluegrass with old time mountain music, displaying hardscrabble edges, while never losing a pastoral sense of melody.

As is always the case with great songwriting, the final product can be lifted or undermined by the playing.  It is rare that the quality of the songs are matched by the quality of the performances and vice-versa.  This is where Smith and the Wild Hearts shine.  Though a trio of guitar, fiddle, and banjo might appear to be limiting, they stretch these limitations to the furthest extent.  

In many ways, Smith and the Wild Hearts have expanded the definition of mountain music with their sound.  They have elements of dark and brooding Americana ("Goodbye, Hello" "Smoke & Mirrors" "Minute Or Two"), pop ("Forever" "Baby Blue" "Somedays"), old time mountain ("All Those Years" "Penny Arcade"), roadhouse blues ("Another Day (Until I Go)"), and even a little funk on ("Hook Me Up").  Most all of these elements come together on the album's centerpiece track "Dance With Me" which blends driving acoustic strumming with mournful fiddle and fragile banjo to reflect the song's sad and lonely center:

I'm moving to a song that no one knows
Dancing to a song I can't see
I'm moving to a song that no one knows
Come on baby, dance with me

Only in his mid 20s, Bryan Elijah Smith appears to be shot out of a creative cannon.  This energy has been fully captured on One More Time.  That this acoustic trio can link together timeless sounds with modern sensibilities stands as a testament to how far Smith and the Wild Hearts can take things going forward.

- Jim Markel

RELATED LINKS

Swampland: Virginia

Swampland Review: Nathan Moore - Dear Puppeteer 

related tags

Music,
Virginia,
Mountain,
Mystery and Manners,

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