WITH SUPPORT Putnam Smith, Seth Yentes, and Mariel Vandersteel.
Reviewing his sophomore full-length, Goldrush
, I accused Putnam Smith of wishing it were 1909 instead of 2009. Looks like I was on the mark: "Sometimes I wonder back to Y2K, if it had all gone back to 1900, like they say/Should we have gone with it, might it be better that way?"
Sure, there's a chuckle in his delivery as part of "Alfred Hitchcock," the finishing track on the brand-new We Could Be Beekeepers, but he's not fooling anyone. This guy would love a return to the world of self-sustainability, where electronics are the stuff of Jules Verne novels. Smith peddles a folksy brand of nostalgia that endears with clawhammer banjo, rag-tag piano, and raw fiddle. Tack on his mostly whispered vocals and you might find yourself picking up your phone to call an ex without knowing exactly why.
A self-professed hermit and road-warrior, it's not just coincidence that has him wishing he were a mole in the ground like Joe Walsh on his album a couple weeks prior. Both are plying some pretty traditional acoustic music, but Smith is more old-timey, à la the Mammals (who also do a take on "Sail Away Ladies" on their debut disc), going for a more rustic sound.
Helpful is Seth Yentes's cello, which lends a gravity especially to "Far Out Sea" and "This Mountain Ain't My Home," and grounds much of the album when it might get too high-register with banjo and fiddle. The latter is supplied by Mariel Vandersteel, who also provides backing vocals, along with a hooped-skirt charm.
Like Ray LaMontagne, Smith still doesn't know what love is. Like Prince, he pines for a time "when you were mine." He knows heartache and regret and both come together in the title track and album heart: "I wish you were beside me/I'm tired of being alone/Together we could be beekeepers/Together we could make a home."
Hey, anything could happen. What's old is new again. Beekeeping is de rigueur nowadays.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at email@example.com.
WE COULD BE BEEKEEPERS | Released by Putnam Smith | at One Longfellow Square, in Portland | June 4 | putnamsmith.com