Self release [Release date: 01.04.17]
There’s nothing deceptive about ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ or the expressive inner voice at the core of both the lyrics and melodies of 11 well written songs.
The Brent Hutchinson Band impressively avoid obvious clichés with a perfect melange of songcraft, intricate band interplay, sweeping melodies and a locker full of guitar tones that draws the listener in.
But while the sonic detail of the acoustic-to-electric title track, the beautifully sculptured instrumental ‘Stevie’, the rhythmic intricacy of ‘Freight Train’ and the acoustic ‘Out For More’ are the building blocks of an album full of rich musical detail, ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ is an exercise in the band’s ability to shape thoughtful arrangements.
As a result ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ is more than a jobbing blues-rock album. Repeated plays allow the songs to breathe and shine, while the eloquent guitar work and cool rhythm section – which consistently supports the grooves and subtle dynamics – means the album has the lovely liquid feel of a musical journey across 11 tracks.
In that respect the riff driven, cutting edge opener ‘Boy Gone Bad’ is slightly misleading, as it suggest a hard driven rock/blues album. And while there are some brusque moments when the band reveal what they do so well in a live setting, there’s a sufficient depth to the material to suggest they will expand their musical horizons with more gigs.
In many ways this is a brave independent album that rarely wavers from the primacy of the songs. Sometimes it takes a while for the fuse to spark, so while the opening gnawing wah-wah of ‘Better The Devil You Know’ locks into a funky groove, it isn’t until the resolving hook that Brent’s vocal sounds wholly convincing. But as with much of the album as whole, you can feel the band have faithfully constructed the basic elements which they then set about colouring impressively.
Listen for example, to the understated intro of ‘Two Kinds of Woman’, which leads to a big chorus and spiky guitar work, before a line without any electric guitar at all on a clever tension build. The perfunctory finish ultimately leaves the listener wanting more.
And it’s that clever dynamic device that levers us into the quasi anthemic ‘Hero’, on which Brett emotes over a gently strummed acoustic, before an uplifting harmony vocal on a song with real feel and presence.
His intricate solo paints an emotional picture to fill the vacuum left by the lyrics. It’s also a great example of a guitar solo that actually lifts the song rather than dominates it.
The following atmospheric instrumental ‘Stevie’ is arguably the highpoint of the album. Yes, there’s inevitable echoes of SRV, but Brent delivers his own mixture of restrained sumptuous tones and intricate harmonics as part of an emotive composite, shot through with a climactic solo that gives the song real impact.
And it’s that subtle combination of subtle pacing, balance and restraint that allows ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ to forge its own unique identity, which is not an easy task in the well populated rock/blues world.
That said there still a few familiar influences – the intro to ‘Bad Advice for example, could almost be The Doobie Brothers, while the rumbling back-beat of ‘Catfish Swampers’ has a Texas feel, but the rock solid rhythm section and dirty toned solo means they fill their canvas impressively.
‘Smoke And Mirrors’ works hard to reveal its quality. The songs flow together nicely, the solos percolate and bubble up to the surface and the hooks lodge anchor deep in the memory.
By the time of the fast, walking bass line intro of the acoustic Django Reinhardt styled ‘You’re Gonna Get It’, they’ve enjoyed a good day’s fishing and done enough to draw us in, hook line and sinker. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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