Dick Smith,
Smoke Damage
(Clayhead, 2002)

I don't care how nice you are, I don't care how well you control it. There are times in everyone's life when you want to get stinking drunk, stagger to the nearest megaphone and tell the whole lousy world what you think of it. Most folks don't, because nothing about massive hangovers and drunken brawls improves the situation. But Dick Smith doesn't care. They've got a band name that sounds like a person, they've got a good store of opinions set by and they've got plenty of swillbilly courage sloshing in their guts to help them share it with the world.

"Swillbilly" is what Dick Smith has dubbed the music poured across Smoke Damage, and it's hard to dispute the title. This is what happens to reputable country songs after they've got good and skunked and started saying what they really think about love, life and liquor. These songs slog through a muddy, laughably grim world of alcoholism and messy love affairs. Even the guitars sound resigned and tired, as though playing along with the band's straining vocals out sheer orneriness, just to prove they still can. It takes three fine musicians, none of whom are named Dick Smith, to create this united sound of drunken country. Dave Nelson uses dobro and guitar to provide a haunting resonance to Bob Kuhn's light mandolin and Dave Ramont's banjo.

Despite the generally bleak view of Dick Smith's songs, a few bright spots shine through the Smoke Damage. "Box of Bones" isn't quite a spiritual, but it offers a defiantly hopeful outlook on the afterlife. It's the sort of grim optimism that could appeal to the survivors of "Trouble Bound" and the defiant winners of "Slim t'None." This grudging cheer provides variety to both the sound and the stories of Smoke Damage, letting them range over rollicking tales of outlaws and grim meditations on "Gravity" with deceptively small changes in their performance.

Smoke Damage ain't pretty, and with songs like "Shitbox," it ain't nice, either. But when your day has been spent drenched with "Pissin' Rain" and "Gravity" has pulled you down too close to earth, you'll find a stinging comfort in their jug of swill.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 21 February 2004