CD Shorts: Greg Smith and The Broken English

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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Greg Smith and The Broken English

Ramblin’ Road



Greg Smith and The Broken English are a New York City band, but if one of the members looks familiar, that may well be because Greg Smith is a native of Charlemont who says he “never let go of [his] rural Massachusetts roots.” Smith and his band were also part of starting a festival at Greenfield’s Arts Block called The Whiskey Treaty that’s taken place for two years and counting.

Smith points out that his new record contains references to our part of the world, and that geographical connection is present to some extent musically as well—The Broken English offer a sound whose baseline is a certain quietude that chimes well with Valley bands like the Scud Mountain Boys and Lo Fine.

Ramblin’ Road’s finest moments arrive in contemplative fashion, often anchored by male-female harmonization and acoustic guitar. Smith’s style is firmly planted in roots/Americana, and that brings up plenty of cliches, from “ramblin’ road” itself to one-way tickets, whiskey and cigarettes. It can be a challenge to bring something new to such well-established tropes, but Smith often puts together songs that play with them in an intriguing way, mixing more modern sensibilities with old-school ideas—not content, for instance, to confess to troubles with the bottle, the narrator of the country-tinged “Whiskey and Cigarettes” talks about his past in Converse shoes, “smokin’ dope and droppin’ LSD” while “living in the pines” off “highway 91.” That mix doesn’t always transcend the expected, but it combines with solid playing to bring The Broken English beyond mere imitation of Nashvilleans past.

All is not quietude here, either. A few songs offer fast-paced, distortion-soaked takes that reek of late-night barrooms and provide a counterpoint to the contemplative tone.

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