2012 / Open Tune Music
Review by Michael Debbage
It has been five years since Frank Smith released the subdued yet sublime Gardens of Hope. The first glance of the artwork as well as the title, Hope Returns, would suggest that he is attempting to repeat himself. However, this is only partially true as Smith builds on the melodic sensibilities we heard on Gardens Of Hope. Of the eleven songs shared, Smith does revisit some of his much older material, but with significant trimmings and transformations with the exception of one song. Thus, those of you hearing them for the second time around will enjoy the more complete and significant makeovers. That said, Hope Returns is another triumph from this overlooked acoustic warrior.
Hope Returns also sees the return of Smith self- producing versus using Will Ackerman, though the mastering is completed by Ackerman’s right hand man Corin Nelsen. This assist along with Smith paying close attention to Ackerman, results in another well produced album. It is here that you understand the motive for the musician wanting to improve on his earlier self-produced work but this time he renovates four of the five retakes with an ensemble approach making them more than just encores. With the exception of one track, they originally appeared on his debut album Assemblance Of Rings. Meanwhile, “With Angels” is revisited from the vocal album I’m Coming Over, where the fretless bass of Michael Manring replaces the melodic vocal lines. This duet, if you can call it that, is heavenly, as the Smith and Manring performances are seamless. The only song that sounds redundant is the nominally edited “Ann’s Song”.
Speaking of Manring, the album opens with his wonderful performance on one of Smith’s completely new intriguing compositions called “Steady Breeze” and much like the title it is refreshing and invigorating. In fact, when Smith and Manring’s collaborations are emphasized, the results are even more magical, paralleling the musical contributions that Sandin Wilson’s fretless bass created with pianist Michael Gettel. This does not stop Smith from taking the lead with his wordless vocals also featured alongside his hauntingly beautiful guitar work on “Falling”. Meanwhile, the album closes with “Spaces” that totally lives up to its title with a slow rhythmic chorus with room left to inhale and exhale to the musical performance.
While Smith addresses the songs that he revisits on the inside liner notes, a full disclosure on his website would have been preferred. Nevertheless, the transformation on these particular songs makes the listening experience wonderful even second time around. This along with his six brand new compositions, Smith continues to further develop his melodic sensibilities resulting in a more entertaining disc than his prior projects, yet still maintaining the calm refrained playing one has come to expect from his healing music.
June 2, 2012