Sunday, 2 December 2012

2 - Porchlight Smoker Dead Reckoning

The recently released 2nd album by Brighton-based band Porchlight Smoker is a wonderful example of how to combine a cross-Atlantic roots sound yet still sound fresh, original and primed to carry the baton of traditional music into the future. The record, given the simple and appropriate title ‘2’, is a comprehensive amalgam of cleverly selected interpretations of existing recordings and self-penned tracks that indicate the positive contribution the quartet of talented musicians can make to this style of music. The essential harmonies required for this sound are in place and combine well with the usual collection of instruments you would expect to find on a roots record. The result is a 14 track album that can be fully embraced by fans of roots music from old time country, through modern Americana to those appreciative of traditional folk from the British Isles.

The quartet formed in 2006 is extremely prominent and active especially in the South of England. Along with much of the promotion, Scott Warman holds the sound together on double bass while Fred Gregory contributes guitar and mandolin, as well as doubling up as an integral member of fellow Sussex-based band Hatful of Rain. He also takes credit for a number of the original songs along with Steve Bell who includes accomplished banjo playing in his musical artistry. Scott Smith completes the line up as the provider of the indispensable lap-steel as well as adding a touch of clarinet. All four share vocal duties and together they perfect the fine performing of all 14 tracks.
These tracks are neatly packaged in a 50-50 split of originals and covers with the latter being an interesting selection from across the roots spectrum. In honour of those inspirational pioneers of country music, the band’s take on the Carter Family’s ‘Lulu Walls’ is a definite highlight of the record. The same genre but fast- forwarded 40 years is represented by the band putting their own stamp on Merle Haggard’s ‘The Bottle Let Me Down’. The work of Dylan is celebrated in a cover of ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’ while we are transported back to these shores with a traditional sea shanty titled ‘Haul Away Joe’. Perhaps the most interesting song selection is to explore the work of Bob Marley whose presence suggests a synergy between the folk/roots music of the Caribbean with that of North America and northern Europe. A banjo, mandolin and double bass-inspired version of his ‘Stir It Up’ is a worthy addition to this collection of quality of songs.

The potential danger of including a host of dominant covers on an album is that they can overshadow the band’s own material. The guys have strategically structured the track listing to mix up songs from different sources. Gregory’s ‘Old Bray Road’ opens the album while Bell’s instrumental ‘Steve’s Jacket’ neatly splits the strong concluding trio of Marley/Dylan/Haggard  tunes to give the listener a taste of what creative talents the band have up their sleeves. The core of the record comprises of a chain of originals headed by the folk-driven tale ‘Flowers on the Sea’ and including probably the record’s best original, the catchy harmonica laced ‘Dig Down Deeper’.
Porchlight Smoker is definitely a band to keep tabs on in the forthcoming year. Their brand of roots music is inclusive to a wide range of fans and in 2 they have an excellent record to exponentially grow their list of admirers. So enjoy their well constructed original material and broaden your musical experience with their carefully selected interpretations.

                                          Hey Maya

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