Smithfield Fair’s Winds of Time

cover, Winds of TimeMost traditional bands — be they Celtic, Scottish or any variation on the acoustic folk motif — tend to rely heavily on the tried and true for their musical repertoire. How many times has “Black is the Color” or “Scotland the Brave” been performed in pubs and festivals across the U.S., not to mention world over? To an extent, this is to be expected. There’s a reason these traditional songs have stood the test of time. They’re entertaining, they’re iconic, and they’re good. They’re also what the audience wants to hear. There’s something to be said for the comfort of the familiar. Unfortunately, too many musicians get locked into an endless recitation of What Has Gone Before, unwilling or unable to add to the body of music from which they draw.

That’s not what Smithfield Fair does on Winds of Time. Quite the opposite, in fact. This dedicated Scottish trio has created a lovely album comprised wholly of original tunes that play up each band member’s strengths. It’s one thing to write songs, but quite another to craft music and lyrics that sound for all the world like they have the weight of a hundred years or more behind them. I found myself double checking the liner notes time and again for a half-familiar melody that must be a clever arrangement of an obscure, traditional piece, only to find that it dates from 1977 or 2003 or some when in between… that’s a worthy accomplishment in my book.

That’s not to say the casual listener can slip Winds of Time in the old CD player and expect to be blown away. Smithfield Fair is an uncommonly subtle band, and that trait shows in its music. The first time I listened to the disc, I found it pleasant but not particularly memorable. The second time around, some of the clever arrangements and techniques I’d missed the first time let themselves be known. Curiosity piqued, I gave it another listen, and suddenly I was struck by a rapid succession of “where did this gem come from?” Gradually, it dawned on me that I’d had similar reactions to earlier Smithfield Fair efforts such as Highland Call and Jacobites by Name as well. It’s good stuff, but you don’t realize how good until you’ve had time to savor it.

The disc gets off to a strong start with the title track, highlighted by Jan Smith’s impressive and versatile accordion work — on first listen, I thought they’d added a pair of smallpipes to the ensemble. Catchy and energetic, the lyrics embody the heroic struggle of outmanned patriots:

Fists are shaking into the sky
Such confusion — will it ever be right?
We keep the faith and finish the course
We keep faith alive when we face the worst.

Dudley-Brian Smith continues with arousing guitar-driven tune with “In Your Fire,” singing convincingly of the flaming passion of love, and its purifying power. There’s no particularly new ground broken on this one, but it’s delivered with a sincerity that’s quite effective. A quieter, more contemplative tone is set with “A Single Day,” which delivers a gentle environmental message with simple, but striking imagery: “There is music in the hedgerow, laughter in the glen;/There is life away from the lives of men.”

The album has several instrumentals, and they stand out distinctly among the other tracks. “March of Time,” composed by Jan Smith, sets up an archaic tempo by Frank Bladen’s bodhran, overlain with Dudley-Brian Smith’s urgent, rhythmic guitar licks. The melody is wholly carried by Jan Smith’s accordion, and the entire piece sound eerily like something of another era. “Perseverance” is built around some folksy, nimble guitar work and stays light and airy, evocative of 1970s era country-folk sounds. The final instrumental, “Jerusalem,” technically isn’t an instrumental as it features melodic “Na na na” vocals as well as a “Jerusalem… Shalom” chorus, but it fits with the other instrumentals in temperament, and the exotic, sing-song chant brings to mind such well-known folk tunes as “Babylon.”

“Twice Around the World” is Dudley-Brian Smith’s take on classic sea chanties, and the tunes the song riffs should be familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a Popeye cartoon. Alternately challenging and wistful, it acknowledges simple truths in matter-of-fact lines like, “I am a sailor, I’ve lived upon the sea/It’s always moving, but that’s just right for me.” The sea and sailing also serve as the subject of “North by Northeast,” with interesting guitar and mandolin arrangements that suggest a Mediterranean influence. Echoes of Arabia permeate “Take the Caravan and Go,” understated and haunting. Bittersweet nostalgia dominates Jan Smith’s “Ten Years Ago,” which turns an older, more jaded eye back on the affairs of the past, half-longing for a return to the simple innocence that was never that simple or innocent to begin with.

Unpretentious and earnest, the 17 songs included here are all worthy efforts and offer a pleasant evening’s listening.

Are any of the them destined to go down as classics? That’s debatable — there’s little here that jumps out with the strength and power that marks the greatest songs handed down from generation to generation — but on the other hand, many of the compositions here already sound like they’ve been performed at gatherings for decades, if not centuries. More than simple pastiche, this music captures the spirit of those older folk and Scottish songs, and if the end result isn’t modern, then at least it’s timeless. In the long run, that’s probably a nobler achievement.

(Stevenson Productions, 2003)

Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke currently resides in New Braunfels, Texas, home of the world's largest waterpark. He works in the media relations department of Texas State University, and also serves as fiction editor for A member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, his short fiction runs the gamut from hard SF to urban fantasy. His short fiction has appeared in various markets including Interzone and Writers of the Future, and a collection of his interviews entitled Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak has been published by the University of Nebraska Press. His Web site can be found here

More Posts