Americana Duo Smooth Hound Smith Display Knack for Hooks and a Versatile Scope On ”Dog in a Manger” (ALBUM REVIEW))

Smooth Hound Smith (SMS) is husband and wife team (yes, another one in this year of duos) Zack Smith and Caitlin Doyle-Smith who began in southern California, honed their craft in East Nashville clubs and opened for The Dixie Chicks,  performed at Bonnaroo, issued two albums, and now their third, the most realized album to date. Dog in a Manger.  Zack Smith (guitars/vocals/foot drums/harmonicas/banjo) and Caitlin Doyle-Smith (vocals/percussion) have honed their stripped-down style using foot percussion, intricate finger-picked guitar patterns, warbled harmonicas, and glowing harmonies for the past seven years seemingly shifting from the front porch to the shadowy juke joints.

The duo has appeared on CMT’s Nashville, MTV’s The Real World and the Esquire Network and attracted such notable guest as Natalie Maines (Dixie Chicks), Sarah Jarosz, and Jano Rix (The Wood Brothers) to their previous album. Sweet Tennessee Honey and bring Luther Dickinson aboard for one track on this effort. They take inspiration in their songs from everyday life. The opener “Life Isn’t Fair” is about a friend of theirs who constantly makes himself the victim. We all know people like that. The highly melodic “One in the Morning “ follows. The name of the title track is intriguing, piquing curiosity as to the stories behind these songs. 

It turns out that these songs were recorded intermittently rather than in one long session, but events conspired to instill an urgency to complete the project. Zack explains, “I wasn’t conscious of it as I was writing the songs. But I realized when I finished that I can relate lyrics back to what my dad went through before he passed. He had been diagnosed with CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease) which attacks the brain. Literally, one in a million people suffers from it. There is no cure. The fatality rat eis 100 percent, usually within a year.” His dad passed within three weeks of the diagnosis. They were able to see him, but his passing lit a fire to produce the best possible content they could.

Some of that inspiration likely lies behind “Waiting For a Spark,” where they cite both the New Testament and Plato in picturing someone weighing options, looking for a sliver of hope. So, some of the lyrical backdrops may be a bit inaccessible but the music is anything but. Usually, it’s the everyday subjects they sing about, such as “Second Hand News” or “Truck Stop Shower.” They bring a gutbucket approach too, helped by Luther Dickinson’s keening slide guitar on “Three Shades  of Lonely.” There’s even a political tune, seemingly a requisite on most albums these days. “Backslide,” though was almost purely accidental. On a night in 2016 Zack opened a hotel window in Las Vegas, expecting to check out the expansive view, and instead found a TRUMP sign blazing just outside. This led to constructing a song with marching percussion to symbolize the #resist movement, a battle cry of sorts. 

Mostly SHS has a relaxed, eminently listenable rootsy sound, imbued with rich, gorgeous harmonies from Caitlin behind Zack’s honest, straight-forward vocals. They have a knack for hooks and a versatile scope. They are certainly in the top tier of the many duos we’ve heard from this year. 

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