Photo by W. Jay
Old Smokey is a unique five piece ensemble featuring Jim Willingham on banjo, Jason Trahan on lap steel, John Fernandes on violin/clarinet/bass clarinet, Jacob Morris on cello, and Rob Lomax on drums.
Their quixotic and sometimes haunting sound has developed organically; the way the instrumentation of the band blends is both complementary and evocative. This distinctive unit began playing together over two years ago. Old Smokey’s first full-length album, Wester Easter will be released on Cloud Recordings, April 29, 2014.
Wester Easter covers a wide span of musical influences, but retains a coherent sound, all its own. Some of the songs capture an Ennio Morricone spaghetti-western influence, while others take on an East Indian psychedelic palette not unlike some of the wanderings of Erkin Koray, or a lost Bollywood soundtrack from the seventies. “Dead Man’s Pose,” a chant-y upbeat scorcher, is grounded in something akin to a New Orleans second line structure.
There are a few numbers on Wester Easter that seem to be channeling the tumbleweed landscapes of The Sons of Pioneers, or the smoky country of a Roger Miller ballad. There’s even a bit of a rock n’ roll stomp or Velvets’ rattle to numbers such as “All the Way Slow” — but it’s almost as if the band got lost in Appalachia on the way to the sock hop.
John Fernandes, Cloud Recordings’ main-man, and Old Smokey’s violin and clarinet player, has approximated sonic references for Old Smokey:
“Fans of Bruce Langhorne, Abner Jay, Bollywood steel guitar music, and The Monks will surely dig our hard to describe sound.”
Despite a wide adventurous berth, Wester Easter is not the soundtrack of a flippant genre-jumping band. Throughout the album, their strong, sonorous mark is consistently there, as the instruments blend, swirl, and crescendo, then break down, from time to time, into the spidery banjo, drums, and plucked-cello skeletal substructure. Led by Jim’s reedy lead vocal, spinning narratives or spilling out constellations of imagery, the whole band often joins, in chorus, to create layered harmonies or group chants.
Old Smokey is compiled of veterans of the Athens music scene. Members have played with bands such as The Olivia Tremor Control, Circulatory System, Vic Chesnutt, Ham1, Moths, Madeline, The Good Ship, and The New Sound of Numbers.
“I’m at a loss to name any bands that Old Smokey sounds like. Old Smokey is a dark, gypsy/Middle Eastern, folk collision. It’s a mixture of string and woodwind instruments unlike any I’ve seen.”
– Mark Ellers, Athens Banner Herald
“Old Smokey’s instrumental tune “Leggy,” is a pleasant, wandering thing, a nice little taste of the band’s upcoming full-length, reportedly titled Wester Easter.”
– Gabe Vodicka, Flagpole Magazine
“Local weavers of the string dream known as Old Smokey have finished their debut record, titled “Wester Easter” and may we say, it’s an ear tickling treasure for sure.”
– Zeke Sayer, Gypsy Farm
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