6 String Ranch 2011 / 2020
New York to Texas and all points in between: American musician struts his heady stuff before the public.
There are many strings to this artist’s talents – the Austin-based polymath is a clinician, producer, instructor and an all-round good guy – but he needs only six to set all this respect-laden luggage aside and let it loose in front of an audience. That’s how it was back in 2011, the year the guitarist’s group were promoting their then-fresh album “Matt Smith’s World” and presenting previously unheard tunes, alongside choice favorites, to the locals. How did they manage to be eating instead of savoring his pieces remains unknown, and the menu of that day has long been forgotten, yet the sounds got preserved for posterity and are as fresh now.
From the first sax lick of “Struggle On” which defies its own title by pitching easiness into the night to the last mandolin-laced note of “Hot Club Of Brooklyn” which relocates the concert’s humid atmosphere to folksy fields and then to a honky-tonk, there’s a soulful ground for the ensemble to roam with a melodious roar. But whereas Matt’s rivetingly strong voice and his colleagues’ vocal harmonies seem to take center stage for the most part, it’s instrumental detail that’s the most arresting aspect of the show, as David Webb’s ivories, Aaron Lack’s steel drum and Smith’s own strum pepper up the flow and peak once “Jazzhaus” is spread out for everyone to marvel at the collective’s telepathic interplay.
The sextet’s constant shift through styles helps the listener to keep the focus firm while shuffling their feet to the infectious Latin-rock jive of “Walk The Talk” and sway to the velveteen “Dance With Me” – so electrifyingly elegant, especially when it gains speed and climaxes with a percussive fest – or at least tap their toes to the lightweight funk of “Simple Song” before Joe Morales’ brass soars and passes this free flight to the others. Still, if the reading of Stephen Stills’ “Love The One You’re With” that provides them with ample space to delve into a fusion-ravaged raga and gives Mark Epstein’s bass a chance to bulge, is a tad drawn-out, the vaudevillian stroll of “Junkie For Your Love” will compensate for any length of a number whose Brechtian urbanism feels irresistible.
Finally dusted off, this performance captures Matt Smith in his element – with music flowing like spirits.