Last year Sean Smith was featured in the March issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine. No mean feat when you look at the usual coverage they give the acoustic guitar world. Smith and his ilk were written up as the “underground” movement in the unsung genre of psyche folk, avant acoustic, call-it-what-you-like music.
Is a guy that releases a limited edition pressing of 300 Lp’s part of the underground? I suppose so. But that August 2007 release on Gnome Life Records is now available on Strange Attractors Audio House. “Eternal” is Sean Smith’s first foray into collaborative music.
And Smith puts the listeners on notice immediately with the opening tune, “Topinambour” with bongos kicking in after the opening chord. This song has an Eastern feel full of percussion so despite my concerns about Smith doing a CD with other instruments, I love percussion and the opening song relieved my initial doubt.
Smith shares a lot of the guitar duties on this album with his buddy from Berkley, Adam Snider. I really enjoyed Snider’s contributions to this effort, I haven’t heard enough from him since the release of Berkeley Guitar.
Snider also contributes some banjo.
Other musicians on the disc include Spencer Owen – bongos, shakers, claves, sandpaper blocks, electric bass and drums.
Fletcher Tucker – mountain dulcimer, handclaps.
Angela Hsu – violins.
Smith even tempts the purists with a solo piece on the nylon string guitar as well as playing electric guitar, Weissenborn and reed organ.
"Goat Seer" is a great little piece with just Smith on Weissenborn and Snider on guitar.
The real test for me on this disc oddly enough is titled, “The Real.” Once again my doubt is renewed when I see banjo and violin listed for the song. Getting me to appreciate almost anything with banjo or violin is a chore and Smith accomplished this easily with “The Real.” In fact, this currently my favorite song on the CD. It’s a song that seems to ramble about with the various instruments weaving their way in and out of the landscape. It has quite a loose feel to it, as though any one of the musicians may go tumbling out of the ragged tempo any minute and ruin the whole song. Part of what makes it so fun to listen to is the tension created by that ragged feel, the song is barely holding together.
So far so good, but I do have some minor criticisms: the package is a bit light on liner notes, I love to read about the make of guitar and tunings, a little more info about each song is appreciated. But these are minor complaints.
Up next is “Holly,” a piece that starts off with acoustic and quickly accelerates to pounding drums and screaming electric guitar. It just as quickly plummets back to a solo acoustic guitar section. I don’t feel this song fit very well into the release, it rather upset the experience of the album as a whole.
“Prompter or Conscience”
“Greeting, Death, Love. (Excerpts)”
Smith eventually does go solo for the last two pieces, not that they are single instrumental pieces; just that he plays all the instruments himself.
“Prompter or Conscience” features Smith on the reed organ and Weissenborn and has an Eastern feel to it. Smith’s slide work on this piece is typical of his polished technique yet he also manages to make it feel as though he was in a contemplative and improvisational mood when he recorded this. It sounds amazingly free and lacking composition, in a good way!
“Greeting, Death, Love. (Excerpts)” is as close as you are going to get to a solo performance on this effort. Smith leads us down the solo steel string path for a good 7 minutes before transitioning to nylon string guitar. Whoa, as if he hasn’t messed with the genre enough here he’s got to get all classical on me. Actually it’s an excellent transition that allows Smith to begin rebuilding the concept of the song on another level before going on to the final crescendo.
It’s a tremendous way of reminding me that Sean Smith is still "of" guitar soli and yet unafraid to mold it to his liking.