Monday, October 1, 2018

David Smeltz. Recovered

David Smeltz. Recovered.
Smeltz Good Music, 2018.  David Smeltz:

If you were around Northeast Ohio in the 70s or 80s you may have encountered the popular Cleveland reggae band I-Tal. David Smeltz was a co-founder of the group, and the band continues today. However, Smeltz has had a different journey as well, dealing with addiction and the long road to recovery. In the meantime, he has formed a nonprofit organization, Clean House, to help others with alcohol and substance abuse, written a book, Clean: From Reggae to Recovery (2014), and formed two other musical groups, the Smeltztones, and the Dave Smeltz Project. A bit older now, he sports a bald look rather than dreadlocks, does martial arts for body and spirit, and is more careful about his eating habits. He’s a busy fellow.

All that is background to the present album, which is by Smeltz as David Smeltz rather than any of the three above-mentioned groups. He gives us nine songs, all in reggae style, accompanied by a rhythm section of I-Tal drummer Chris Dunmore and bassist Adam Rich. The recording was done live at Rich’s Love Muffin Studios, with some additional work at Mann Wolf Studios. The album has a crisp, clean sound (appropriate), and is pretty much what you might expect musically--a fine set of songs that are both easy to listen to and powerful in their statement. 

One can think of reggae as political music, spiritual music, party music, or all three simultaneously, which is what we have here. While one might try to separate these three aspects of the music, I’m not sure why one would bother. Case in point, the song “The Four Absolutes,” which suggests that honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love are pillars of a good life, is clearly a song that emphasizes the spiritual, while giving us some remarkable electric guitar licks and a great beat. “Rise & Fall” offers the advice that the political currents we are wrapped up in are part of a larger picture and all will change. The vibes throughout are positive and encouraging, despite the struggles we encounter. All the songs are of a single tapestry, with only one song from elsewhere, “Before the Beginning” (Peter Green), and the lyrics on “Corinthians,” taken from the Bible. and the musicians do an excellent job of putting them across. Smeltz’s voice provides a clear, strong tenor, with various other vocals assisting on occasion. Of course, without a rhythm section it wouldn’t be reggae, and Chris and Adam do exactly what is needed to anchor the melodies with a solid beat. 

In sum, I really enjoyed this album. The music, the atmosphere, and the messages are moving and positive in a time when we could sure use some uplift. The CD release party is scheduled for November 24th at the Beachland Tavern (15711 Waterloo Rd.), and half the proceeds from sale of the CD will go to Clean House. It will be on sale at Macs Backs in Coventry, and at any of the group’s gigs.

Personnel:  David Smeltz (guitars, vocals, keyboards), Chris Dunmore (drums), Adam Rich (bass), with guests, DL Ware (spoken word on “Disorder,” and Eva Dilcue (harmony vocals on “The Four Absolutes).
Tracks:  Rise & Fall, Live While You Can, Many Paths, Before the Beginning, Corinthians, Surrender, Disorder, The Four Absolutes, My Life.

Jeff Wanser

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Swap Meet. Swap Meet

Swap Meet. Swap Meet.
Self-released, 2018. Swap Meet:

Swap Meet describes itself on its Facebook site as, “original acoustic music from the heart for your soul.” Yeah, we’ll go with that. They’ve been performing extensively around the area for a while now, in a variety of venues We originally reviewed their debut EP in late 2015, with six songs. You can go read that to find out that we liked it a lot, describing it as “Northeast Ohio Americana/country/gypsy jazz.” That continues in large part because five of the six songs on the EP appear here. But if by some chance you have the old recording, that shouldn’t stop you for a second in acquiring the music on this new release. I can’t always tell if the old tunes have been completely rearranged and re-recorded, or sometimes simply remastered with overdubs, but it is clear that the music sounds different, and even better than the first time around. Plus there are eight new songs to hear. Let’s check out the older material first.

The first four tracks also appeared on the first release, along with “Gypsy Desire,” further along. All are strong tunes (Peter wrote them), deserving of wide listening and radio play (I hope somebody is playing this stuff!). They are, by and large, improvements on the originals. “Gypsy Desire” has lost the canned radio sound, which was interesting, but the new version really pops in a way that the older one doesn’t. The vocals sound stronger and the guitar solos stand out. “Waters Blue” is still a stunning beauty of a country-style song, as is “A Broken Heart Gets No Relief.” Curiously, my favorite of the older tunes, “Moonbeams Fall” is made significantly better by the emphasis of the flute for solo, which is just a knockout jazzy romp. 

As for the new songs, they mostly fit in thematically, but expand the band’s palette of colors, moving further into gospel, country, blues, and jazz, with a bit of comedy thrown in. “P.B.F.H.” (Psycho Bitch from Hell) takes care of the last part of the list pretty well. “Lana” moves jazzy, with a subject who is both intriguing and a bit scary (not sure if I’d ever want to meet Lana, but I love the song). “Before I Drown” takes us back toward country, as does “Double Nickels,” both of which are fine, enjoyable songs. It’s hard to pick personal favorites, because there are no clinkers, no filler here. The album ends on the beautiful and strong “Agree,” with a touch of politics and Kari and Michelle intertwining voices.

The music has endless variety, owing partly to the multiple styles employed by the group, as well as the three vocalists, each of whom lends a different mood and color to the songs they’re featured in. They also blend together so nicely in harmonies, and the solo work on guitar and flute are spectacular. A highly enjoyable album, available on iTunes and Spotify, made better by the fact that they can be found in concert right nearby. Go listen.

Personnel: Kari Rutushin (vocals, rub board, flute, ukulele), Michelle Reyna (vocals, washboard), Spencer Paul (stand up bass), Stuart Abrams (lead guitar), Walter Genutis (vocals), Peter Nario-Redmond (vocals, guitar). Somebody’s playing mandolin?
Tracks: What’s So Good About Being Happy?; Waters Blue; Moonbeams Fall; A Broken Heart Gets No Relief; Jesus; I Dig You; Before I Drown; Democracy Hypocrisy; Gypsy Desire; Lana; P.B.F.H.; Double Nickels; Agree.

Jeff Wanser