“We’re both pretty much lifelong musicians, but this is a pretty new project; we’ve only been performing together for about 8 months,” said Zack Smith of the Los Angeles-based Smooth Hound Smith, referring to the other member of this two-person group, Caitlin Doyle. 8 months, 1 self-released studio EP and facing their first large tour, Smooth Hound Smith may be new, but their sound certainly isn’t rough or without polish.
Produced at Red Rockets Glare Studio in Rancho Park, California with the help and musical accompaniment of Raymond Richards, Zack Smith and Caitlin Doyle have produced a 10 track album that is a crisp, refined piece of soulful, melodic blues that Zack Smith described as “a blend of guitar and harmony driven American music.” That description certainly allows for larger influences and sounds to carry through, ranging from Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, the Band, Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin’ Hopkins; some of the band’s admitted influences.
Recorded over 4 days, the first track off of Smooth Hound Smith, “Get Low”, immediately pulls you in with rocksteady guitar licks that then bring in a bass and high hat thump before yielding to Zack Smith’s vocals and Caitlin Doyle’s accompanying vocal harmonies. Your head starts to bob at about the :30 mark of this track, and in a day and age of ever diminishing attention spans – Smooth Hound Smith commands yours from the onset.
The second track “California Sway” is a song that the band delineated as a potential single. You can hear the Mississippi Delta influence on the beginning of this song, as a few simple chords are repeated, before turning over to Smith and Doyle singing in a soft lullaby manner with jug harp eventually audible in the background. This is a canned blues number, but richer in texture from Caitlin Doyle’s harmonies. The song actually does make you sway, as it breezes across you; gentle and uplifting.
Smooth Hound Smith’s “The Minutes”
“30 Days”, the third track, is a busier song that could pass for a 20’s ramble. The next track “Young and Golden” is the song most suitable for major radio play, possessing a slow and sweet, hook melody that yields to a quicker pace as the song progresses. By the 2:15 mark, the song then bursts into a louder and faster tempo with a fiddle accompanying, before lulling back down again.
She don’t say what’s on her mind,
Maybe she does, but she says it with her eyes…
This is how the 4th track “Body Talkin” begins, a song about the game-like interactions between men and women. This song features incredible harmonizing by Caitlin Doyle. “Crazy for You” starts with a few notes that sound very similar to “Into the Mystic”, but then quickly steers away. This song is a profoundly moving, original love song, drawing upon a multitude of themes within the dynamic of love and loss.
Smooth Hound Smith’s “Young and Golden”
“The Minutes” features some quick picking guitar play and a subtle and steady beat provided by the washboard. The next song, “Blue Dress” is a short, Zydeco-infused rhythm and blues song that feels playful. Xylophone can be heard in the background giving it even more bounce. “Steal Your Crown” is an old sounding rhythm and blues number that sounds very similar to current retro-rocker JD McPherson. The last song on the album is the only song that features Caitlin Doyle on lead vocals, as it sounds like a mixture of a second-line New Orleans parade and a love-soaked funeral dirge. Doyle’s vocals are a sultry-pain and really make this song stand out as the album concludes.
Smooth Hound Smith is a phenomenal first effort from a two-person band that’s only been playing together for 8 months. From here, the sky is the limit, but first Zack Smith and Caitlin Doyle are embarking on their first sizeable tour outside California. “This is our first big outing (6 week tour). We started booking the tour because we landed a spot on the lineup at Widow’s Peak Festival in Chicago in mid-May, and we wanted to justify a trip out there with more gigs, then they all started falling into place,” Zack Smith said of the upcoming tour.
If Smooth Hound Smith sounds anything like what they put down on this album, I have a feeling they may not have ANY trouble finding gigs or an audience to fill the venues they’re playing. Call it folk, call it blues, call it Americana, call it whatever you like, but Smooth Hound Smith creates a multitude of varying sounds, made even more impressive by the number of people creating those sounds. Zack and Caitlin may be new to the album pressing, multi-state touring, self-promotional, publicity thing, but what they lack in experience there, they make up for in talent and uniqueness of sound.
Written by Allen Byrne
OurVinyl | Contributor
Smooth Hound Smith