Fans of the up-and-coming North Carolina-based Smith Family Band may have been wondering why they haven’t heard anything from the group in the past several months. They shouldn’t worry – the band is still going strong, just under a new name. The Smiths have become Ash Breeze, and recently released their debut album under that name, a fine self-titled effort on Mountain Fever Records.
The album leans more toward polished Americana than it does bluegrass, mixing instrumentals with several Gospel numbers and a few covers. Of the twelve tracks, seven are originals. Corey Smith, the family’s guitarist (as well as resident filmmaker) composed three on his own and three with dad Allen (bass, though he ceded his duties on the low four to Aaron Ramsey and Zeb Snyder on the album). Things start out with one of Corey’s tunes, an instrumental called Category Five. Though it’s not as furiously fast as one might expect given the title, it still moves along at a nice pace, with a jazzy, progressive feel. Corey’s other compositions have an easy-listening vibe and maintain the jazz influences, particularly in regard to his guitar playing. Little Dreamer is gentle and rolling, while The Sunday Place has a cheerful groove.
Corey and Allen’s co-written numbers have been gathering some attention since the album’s release. Without Love, the lead single, finished in the top five in the Christian/Gospel category of the 2014 Great American Song Contest and also received third place in the Gospel/Inspirational category in this year’s MerleFest Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. It has an acoustic contemporary Christian sound, and speaks of the need for God’s love to complete our lives. Another co-write, Blue Skies and Cloudy Days, recently made an appearance on the Bluegrass Today weekly chart. It’s an enjoyable, laidback song about how God will be there for us in both good and trying times.
When Fall Comes to New England is a nice addition to the album. Written by folk singer Cheryl Wheeler, it’s a peaceful description of fall colors and scenery that the Smiths have given a fine contemporary bluegrass sound. James Taylor’s Carolina in My Mind is also well-done, and the addition of dobro courtesy of Gavin Largent is a nice touch.
Though the Smiths (with the exception of Allen) are all under 20 years old, they’re all quite talented musicians and show a great command of their instruments. Nellie (lead vocals and fiddle) particularly stands out on this recording, with her clear vocals suiting the band’s contemporary sound well. Corey (guitar), Eli (mandolin), and Luke (banjo) all do a solid job, as well.
For more information on Ash Breeze, visit their website at www.ashbreezeband.com. Their new album can be purchased from a variety of online retailers.