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CD REVIEW: Sky Smeed - Mill River
By Chip Withrow - 02/26/2007 - 10:39 PM EST

Artist: Sky Smeed
Album: Mill River
CD Review: I was driving on a sunny Saturday morning, listening to this fine CD over and over, when it occurred to me that Sky Smeed deserves one of my highest compliments: he reminds me of Gram Parsons.

Mill River has a trio of great country-rock tunes just made for a road trip: "Nothing to Fear," the title track and "Did We See Each Other?" And Smeed fires off some roadhouse rockers as well: Jimmy Reed's "Shame Shame Shame" and the fiery Dwight Yoakum-esque original "Tonight I Will."

On other songs, Smeed digs deep emotionally. "Love Again" and "Amarillo Sun" are deperate pressure cookers ("Amarillo Sun" is better because it's so spooky), and on the other end of the spectrum "Sally" is a yearning piano ballad.

The soulful "The City" and "Did We See Each Other?" are my favorite cuts. One constant throughout the disc is the brilliant playing of Pete Adams on pedal steel and dobro, and his work is particularly stunning on these two songs.

Smeed's lyrics often speak of the perils of drinking, and he penned his best, most clever lyrics for "Did We See Each Other?" Despite the title, the acoustic guitar-and-dobro "Dear Grandpa" is anything but maudlin because of Smeed's imagery.

"Never Works Out" is cool, almost power pop - it deserves mention because it's so unlike the other tracks. (Well, "Nothing to Fear" is kind of that way, now that I'm listening to it again and I hear that electric rhythm guitar.) And I like how the disc ends with the stark, acoustic "I Still Miss You" - if the songs on the album have a common narrator, then the question of his redemption is left unanswered.

Guys like Gram Parsons, and later, John Hiatt showed that country music can be infused with the power of bluesy soul, and Smeed does that too (dig his vocal on "Long Long Time"). If you're a songwriter in any kind of folk-country vein and you don't know who Parsons and Hiatt are, find out. And also check out Sky Smeed, who with Mill River shows the promise of holding his own with those guys.

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