Wig Smith is the other half of folk duo The Hand which comprises Bristol singer-songwriter Rachael Dadd. At the end of April he announced the release of his solo debut A Means of Escape Through a Hedge.
There was little background information I could track down on this album other than the plentiful insights from the artist himself – the best we could have hoped for! Much like the lyrics and analyses he posted along with announcing the LP’s release via his Myspace page he seems to be of the ethos where creative productivity is something that is shared and traded in return for something akin; stating on the site “my album is available for £8…but if anyone wants to do a swap, I love doing swaps!”
In much the folky sense then Smith is all about trading stories, reworking tales, sharing knowledge and exposing secrets. His album is a collection of delicately crafted songs with rock hard centres of concrete ideas, as concrete perhaps as the sculpture “Flying Shaman” which inspired the track “Ashevak”.
Showcasing his talents as a musician he plays kora, ukulele, piano, guitar and harmonium, with Hand counterpart Dadd providing clarinet and additional vocals. The abundance of instruments aside it is the kora, a 21 string harp-lute, that really makes this album shine, lending Smith an almost Joanna Newsom-like quality, not solely for the instrument’s likeness in sound to that of the harp, but for his style of storytelling which is both as fanciful, mischievous and at times heartbreaking as Newsom’s herself. Take the lyrics to “The Sentience of Toes” in which the fingers of the feet “meet with a snail and a slug, in warmly dewed morning grass”, bringing to mind the mollusk weddings of Newsom’s track “Inflammatory Writ”. Smith’s song of the promise of spring is made as charming and quintessentially English as Beatrix Potter’s tales.
Opener “Frost” draws its inspiration from a Russian fairy tale Dveenatsat Meesyatsev (Twelve Months/Father Frost), with typically chilling lyrics “Mother, I’ve nothing to let me know/how to salve a suitor singing blue songs/that numb me more with every word I hear”. Other literary references include “Bellow’s Song” which recounts the artist’s first hearing of The Adventures of Auggie March author Saul Bellow’s death. Nature songs “Ivy” and “Elm Tree Tall” are typically in keeping with traditional folk songwriting in their subject matter. Aside from all this, much of his songs are derived from self written poetry: “The Sentience of Toes” and unrequited love poem “Keeper of the Swans”.
The intelligence of his song writing, so referential to landscape and nature, the changing seasons, literature and fable; along with Smith’s own reflections on personal moments of poignancy, make the album unique in its array of narrative. Along with his vocals, which echo Richard Thompson, it possesses a timeless quality allowing Wig Smith to seamlessly bridge the gaps between his stories of modern-day springtime and desolate Russian winter.
For album details and latest gig dates visit: www.myspace.com/wigsmith