Dick Smith,
(Clayhead, 2000)

Dick Smith is a band, not an individual, and they play a rootsy mix 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 15 songs begged to be recorded live. In the basement. And so it was." This is a mixed blessing -- I love the energy, but do regret the compromises made in sound quality. Still, 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.

Swill ends with their own take on religious tolerance, "Church of Yer Choice," where the important thing is to pray for them, whether in a church, a mosque, an ashram or other. They favor kindness to others in general, as in "Peace in the Valley," a rocking musical version of the Golden Rule -- although there are some exceptions, such as the nasty old coot who "Fell from the Ugly Tree" with its cascade of insults, although they say "If you were a nice person, no one would even care" how he looked.

The whole album takes a DIY (do it yourself) approach. Dick Smith printed the CD label, the tray card, the liner notes and the lyric sheet on their home printer, and have added their website info (www.clayheadrecords.com) by hand to my copy. They pushed the limits of their printers a bit which makes parts less readable than would be ideal, but on the whole it's a fun and intriguing approach. The CD itself was professionally manufactured, so is not light-sensitive the way CDRs can be. All the songs' lyrics are supplied on a legal-sized page, which is very nice.

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 paying it for others.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]
Rambles: 24 November 2001