Dick Smith, "Smoke Damage"
An Illinois-based trio, Dick Smith makes a slightly twisted but literate brand of bluegrass-influenced country music. Old-timey music with a post-modern sensibility, sharply observant lyrics sung with a midwestern twang and instrumental virtuosity add up to a mighty appealing package. Musically, Dick Smith revolves around the groove laid down by Dave Nelson on dobro and various other resonator-type guitars. Smith is joined by Bob Kuhn on mandolin and guitar, and Dave Ramont on banjo mostly. All three sing, at times teaming up for three-part harmonies that range from soaring to spine-tingling.

They're joined on this, their second CD, by a sextet of other Illinois musicians dubbed the Band o' Dicks, playing drums, accordions, bass and what-not. The overall sound draws on Grisman and Garcia's "dawg music," with a little of the psychedelic weirdness and irreverence of the Holy Modal Rounders and the down-home corn of Goose Creek Symphony thrown in for good measure. For example, there's "Paul Kissed the Girl," a bluesy rocker about a guy who caught Johnny Cash's cold by kissing a girl who'd blown a note on the Man in Black's harmonica. "Shitbox" is a waltz-time folksong about a car in less-than-optimum condition, featuring manic drumming that evokes the vehicle's misfiring engine.

It's not all jocularity, though. The first song, "Kettle o' Fire," draws a pointilist picture of painful love with minimal couplets: "born young/young gun/gun shy/shy sponge/soppin' water/soppin' dirt/wipe my hands/on my shirt..." "Trouble Bound" reads like an ancient morality tale, driven by finger-picked guitar: "I told you not to let that boy go wanderin'/told you not to let him wander round/If he gets his head set on wanderin'/You know that he'll never put it down," and some of that nifty harmony on the chorus, "Trouble bound, trouble bound, trouble walks beside me."

"Pissin' Rain" sounds like it might be a joke, but it's a sad, shuffling lament of a guy having a really bad day. And it's not hardly a country album without a song about a "Whiskey Bottle," and this one walks that line between pathos and black humor: "Well I took 12 steps, and they was all towards that bottle..."
It's hard to pick a favorite track, but "Box o' Bones" gets one of my votes. This lovely and thoughtful ballad deals with life and death and raising a glass to the departed, "because the dead they live again in the memories of their friends, they're not just some box of bones in a hole in the ground." The album closer, "Gravity," is another candidate, a deceptively simple and beautifully realized song that's a treatise on gravity, both physical and metaphorical: "...as you grow old, they say that you start to shrink/It's the gravity I think, pulling you down to die." The packaging is clever and entertaining, and even includes the words and chords to all the songs. Sing along, now! Smoke Damage is truly subversive alt-country, but most of all, it's real music by real people, with lots of soul and plenty of guts.
                         --Gary Whitehouse, The Green Man Review

 

Dick Smith, "Smoke Damage"
Fans of The Gourds and The Guthries will feel right at home with this collection of anthems to death ‘n’ drinking from this Chicago 3 piece (none of whom is called Dick Smith btw). However, below the initial appeal of their catchy hillbilly dittys, their songs are underpinned by sophisticated arrangements and an array of musical textures that give the record more depth upon each listening. There’s elements of The Band on the oompah fairground opener ‘Kettle O Fire’ and they proceed to demonstrate a grasp of many genres including classic bluegrass storytelling (‘Whiskey Bottle’ ‘Box Of Bones’), Steve Earlesque southern rock (‘Trouble Bound’ ‘Gravity’) and the sparse gothic style of The Handsomes and Willard Grant, especially on the murder ballad ‘Hazard Pay’. There’s also a good deal of humour with the comical blues of ‘Pissin’ Rain’, the New Orleans swing of ‘Slim T’ None’ (like a deep south take on Itchycoo Park) and the very Soggy Bottom Boys’ sinagalong number ‘Chicken Hand’. The standout track however is ‘Shitbox’ which despite the fairly unsavoury title and subsequent chorus line is a gloriously seductive mid-tempo waltz with an infectious tapdance backing rhythm (think Mr Bojangles) that then descends into a great drum break complimented by funky jews harp, great harmonies and mandolin. I’d like to hear them play around with more of this type of tune as they obviously have a talent for more than just campfire twang. Overall though ‘Smoke Damage’ is an engaging and eccentric collection of lively tracks that makes you want to crack open the bourbon and get a swing porch. RB.
                         --From americana-uk.com

 

Dick Smith, "Smoke Damage"
Okay, first of all, these cats are mighty whacked. But they're hella good. It's bluesy old timey, it's inbred urbane country, it's…hell, I don't know what it is, but I'm diggin it. Some tunes even remind me of the really spooky cosmic country cuts of the Dead's Aoxomoxoa period, and that's a first.

I really dug this record when I played a few cuts, but then it got away from me in the deluge of releases that quickly followed. When I heard through the grapevine that Acoustic Guitar Magazine was allegedly calling it one of the top 3 DIY releases of the year, I dug it back out of the rubble.

One of the best record jackets I saw all year, definitely. All six panels had something really provocative or really funny, instead of some blurry photo or puzzling graphic with the lyrics printed too small to read. And there were no songs called naked, nude, bare, or stripped, I liked that, too. Their songs had names like "Chicken Hand," "Pissin Rain," "One Day They'll Shoot Me Down," and "Shitbox," a particularly good song that we'll include in the clips on the Listen page.

Dick Smith is a trio of pretty outside fellas from the Chicago area. Dave Ramont is on banjo, guitar, concertina, jug, and vocals. Bob Kuhn sings, plays mandolin and mandola, as well as nice guitar and crappy guitar (sic). Dave Nelson supplies the "Dobro, Larson reso-koa beauty, singin', mouth twanger, f-hole box full o' spooks and ghost helicopters, distressed harmonica, and cork." Not only all that, they are further buttressed by the Band o' Dicks as a rhythm section as well as on accordion and hanky, and Christopher W. Walke brought liquor and played lap steel.

I like these guys as much as the Be Good Tanyas or The Gourds, which is a lot. Like both of those great bands, they take old forms and play the hell out of them in new ways, with the humor and reckless abandon found more often in the originals than some of the purist interpretations. If you're not breathing new life into these old forms, you might as well be living on an airplane.

Smoke Damage rocks. Be the first one on your block to get it.
                         --Frank Goodman, Puremusic.com

 

Dick Smith, "Smoke Damage"
Real nice acoustic angst from outta Chicago, here. Rootsy blues and swamp-touched country slip out between the banjos and guitars, the vocals swirl and twang. The songs move almost alcoholically and make you feel the stories behind the songs until all you want is a nice porch to sit on, perhaps in Chicago, but this takes me closer to Louisiana, and I want to play these songs like a Tom Waits grin. Smoking cigarettes with the Mekons on my front porch, waiting for Neko Case to come by and join me for a whiskey and duet. That would be so nice.
                         --Marcel Feldmar, The Big Takeover

 

Dick Smith, "Smoke Damage"
What you get when you listen to this CD by Dick Smith (and before you ask, no, there's no Dick Smith in the band. The band as a whole has chosen the name Dick Smith.) is one of those CDs filled with old-timey music you might hear some people playing on their porch in the country on a summer's night drive. Someone's got a banjo, someone's got a mandolin and someone's got a dobro - you get the idea. All folky stringed instruments playing a blend of mountain and bluegrass that defies categorization, not to mention description. It just sounds good, homey and perfect for the back porch at night with a bunch of your friends. Even better, the bands three main cogs (Bob Kuhn, Dave Nelson, Dave Ramont - all various stringed stuff) have all written songs that sound like old dusty classics from the ‘20s or thereabouts. That they can infuse their songs with the classic old-timey sensibilities without it coming out like Hokum, is a feat in itself. I had a lot of fun listening to this CD and I am sure if you're a fan of old-timey country, you will too.
                         --Scott Homewood, Freighttrainboogie.com

 

Dick Smith, "Smoke Damage"
Dave Nelson, Dave Ramont and Bob Kuhn are, collectively, Dick Smith and together with a bunch of musicians from their home town of Chicago follow up 2001’s "Swill" with this new CD. The band play, in their own words, "strange country" and I am not going to disagree. Their brand of largely acoustic, traditional bluegrass and country is, at times, reminiscent of the Gourds, but some of these lyrics are obviously how they came by the "strange" tag as a glance through "Pissin’ Rain," "Slim t’ None" or the charmingly titled "Shitbox" will testify. My personal favourite though, has to be "Paul Kissed The Girl" which relates the sorry tale of a guy who indirectly catches a cold from Johnny Cash after kissing a girl who had played a harmonica belonging to the Man in Black. Cash’s lyrical influence incidentally can be heard on several of the tracks here, most notably "Box of Bones" and "One Day They’ll Shoot Me Down." It sounds like they had plenty of fun making this album and that, in turn, makes for a pretty enjoyable listen.
                         --From Americana-UK.com

 

Dick Smith, "Smoke Damage"
Dick Smith stares death in the face -- then smiles a loopy grin. Half-fried, slightly toasted and moderately askew, this three-man band celebrates life with a unique blend of "swillbilly." Think New Riders of the Purple Sage, John Prine and the Bad Livers swirling together in a mountain brew and you’ll be in their musical neighborhood. Rootsy bluegrass with elements of punk and a sly sense of humor. Lyrically, "Smoke Damage" takes a walk on the dark side, exploring the weight pulling on the working man in "Gravity," hiding out from the authorities in "Pissin’ Rain," life on the run in "One Day They’ll Shoot Me Down," bad habits in "Whiskey Bottle," and death in "Box of Bones." Chicago-based musical veterans Dave Nelson (dobro, harmonica), Dave Ramont (vocals, banjo, concertina, jug) and Bob Kuhn (vocals, mandolin) display a rare talent for shaping a musical niche. They round out their universe with several able pals on accordion, lap steel and upright bass. The guys describe their effort as "like a sunny night, or dancin’ at a wake." Just don’t let them decorate the coffin.
                         --Fred Kraus, Minor7th.com

 

Dick Smith, "Smoke Damage"
Dick Smith is a trio of multi-instrumental playing singer-songwriters from somewhere around Chicago. None of them are named either Dick or Smith. They play an eclectic mix of bluesy, tongue-in-cheek, Cajun-flavored, country folk, Americana music that reminds one of Hot Tuna or Bad Livers. This is not to say that they are exactly like either of those bands, for they have created their own unique fusion of their collective musical influences. The album has an easy, rolling, bluesy feel to it with just a bit of a punkish edge. Smoke Damage is a collection of tunes contributed by all of the band members, either individually or in a collaborative effort. Topics covered include driving a beater car (Shitbox), enduring the hazards of a downpour (Pissing Rain) and the celebrity chain of recipients of the common cold (Paul Kissed the Girl). It's evident these guys are having a great time. They have managed to create some seriously fine music without taking themselves too seriously. The band is joined on the album by a number of other musicians from the Chicago area who add percussion, lap steel, accordion, and bass. Despite the vast array of instrumentation, the album retains a rootsy, living room feel that perfectly fits the songs.

It's a pity Dick Smith is ensconced far away in Chicago. I'd see these guys play in a minute. This album will be both a favorite and a unique addition to anyone's CD collection. Keep 'em coming, boys.
                         --Allen Price, Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange, www.AcousticMusic.com

 

Je zou denken; Dick Smith, de zoveelste singer-songwriter dit jaar. Ha! Nee hoor, we hebben het hier over een trio uit de omgeving van Chicago dat bluegrass speelt, gecombineerd met rootsachtige volksmuziek. Smok Damage (Clayhead Records) is de titel van hun tweede cd. Dat laatste klinkt alsof ik hun debuut ook ken, maar dat is niet het geval. Het floepte er gewoon zo uit. Bob Kuhn speelt gitaar en mandoline en zingt, Dave Nelson zingt ook, strijkt over de dobro en blaast in de harmonica en Dave Ramont banjoot en zingt enthousiast mee. De drie luitjes, aangevuld met een rijtje gastmuzikanten, vinden het leuk wat ze doen en dat hoor je. Whiskey Bottle, Pissin' Rain, Shitbox, One Day They'll Shoot Me Down en Paul Kissed The Girl zijn enkele titels die duidelijk maken wat dit muzikale trio bezielt. Levensechte verhalen, die overtuigend worden gebracht. Niet dat hier snarengekletter domineert zoals je bij bluegrass zo vaak hoort, maar met hun tamelijk kale geluid - de Appalachen zijn niet ver weg - creeren ze een ruig rootssfeertje dat zeer genietbaar overkomt. Maar wie is die helse Dick Smith nou?
                         --Bart Ebisch, altcountry.nl

 

Dick Smith is a band, not an individual, and they play a rootsy blend of country and bluegrass that's heavily influenced by rock and even some punk sensibilities. It's a strange but infectious mix, as far past alternative country as the alternative is past the mainstream.

Dick Smith's website says, "These songs begged to be recorded live. In the basement. And so it was." ...it's refreshing to hear a CD without that sheer perfection of sound quality that's so different from a live show. "Swill" really sounds like Dick Smith is playing in your living room, with the rough edges adding to the effect.

As I've said in other reviews, I love the wordplay often found in country songs. Dick Smith has a great one here: "Heart Up On Blocks" takes an automotive metaphor and runs with it just enough, and "Tumbulars" uses a safecracking metaphor.

If you're intrigued by the sound of very alternative, rootsy bluegrass and country, look no further. "Swill" is the album you want. I strongly recommend it to bluegrass fans who might enjoy a high-energy, new take on that lively tradition. I'm enjoying it a lot myself, and I'm looking forward to playing it for others

                         --Amanda Fisher, Rambles.net

 

From the opening thirty seconds of "Swill," the new record by Dick Smith, there's more than a hint of John Hiatt and Dylan, which should be an immediate plus for anyone considering delving further into the fifteen tracks contained here-in, which sometimes veer over the thin-dividing line into blues more than country. Tracks like "Heart Up On Blocks" and "Indian Radio" feel like they were recorded with comfortable ease, not to mention a lot of enjoyment. "Huntsville" and "Gimme The Skinny" are more laid back and gives the instrumentation involved throughout a chance to breathe, and with over an hour's worth of music, there's bound to be a high point for most people. 
                         --From Americana-UK.com