The 32nd album by local acoustic trio Smithfield Fair takes a spiritual turn.
For “Gospelesque,” the group’s members — Dudley-Brian Smith, guitar and vocals; his wife, Jan, vocals and accordion; and Smith’s brother, Bob, bass, percussion and vocals — wrote and recorded 14 original songs inspired their Christian faith.
Stylistically, the songs range from American and Celtic folk to hymn-like pieces to pop-oriented material. Many of them could work well in a church-service setting. Though the trio’s songwriting is skilled, it’s also simple enough for a congregation to quickly grasp. The lyrics express strength derived from Christian beliefs.
“God Never Sleeps,” written by Jan Smith, resides on the folky side of the group’s repertoire. Singing high and clear, she recounts that, even in the darkest of times, God’s never-ending presence forms a rock of support.
The sound of one of Smithfield Fair’s secular influences, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, can be heard in “When the Spirit Moves.” The trio’s performance of this Dudley-Brian Smith composition echoes C,S,N&Y’s signature harmonies. It’s also an intimate performance that, like so much religious and spiritual music, has the power of consolation.
The celebratory “What a Day!” also brings Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to mind, especially through Jan Smith’s high, Neil Young-ish lead vocals. However, the song’s musical accompaniment, featuring driving rhythm guitar and gently contrasting accordion, is more in a Celtic vein than C,S,N&Y’s folk-pop style. Smithfield Fair has long been identified with Scottish music.
“Sinking Low,” another Jan Smith composition, links the not-so-distant worlds of folk music and traditional hymns. With its “Amazing Grace,” “I once was lost, but now I’m found” sentiment, it’s another of the album’s affirmations of faith. Male vocal harmonies join Jan Smith for the song’s chorus, a defining characteristic of Smithfield Fair performances.
Despite Smithfield Fair’s long history of performing Scottish traditional music and original music composed in a Celtic style, the trio perhaps inevitably has been influenced by the indigenous south Louisiana music. The rhythm-and-blues-touched “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” a Dudley-Brian and Jan Smith co-write, offers one of the album’s more aggressive tempos. The song also sends an urgent message. Lyrics call for listeners to “have faith and climb on board that glory train and ride.”
A testament to Smithfield Fair’s special niche in folk music and longevity, “Gospelesque” is available from CDBaby.com.