Sam Fuller-Smith: Piedmont Pastimes

[Self-released; June 18] | ★★★½    

The ultimate track on Durham musician Sam Fuller-Smith’s Piedmont Pastimes, “In the Shadow Of the Cardinal’s Wing,” arrives at a kind of album thesis: amid the chime of electric and acoustic guitars, one lagging behind the other like two sets of distant church bells, Fuller-Smith sings, “I was born here but I’m not really from here / Not a native nor a stranger.”

The abiding theme here is a tension between the native and the outsider; being in but not of a spatial, internal, or musical world.

On title track ‘Piedmont Pastimes,’ Fuller-Smith balances delicate fingerpicking with questions of personal and musical belonging: “Have you been to Surry County? / Did you ever swim Little Fisher River?” … “Can you hear the voices of Doc Watson and Elizabeth Cotten / in your dreams?”

The album is replete with lush folk country touches—banjo accents on “Your Song,” for instance, and the slow hum of an electric guitar on “It Takes A Long Time.” Lyrically, Fuller-Smith tosses off several nice turns of phrase—“like throwing diamonds into a well” and “when spring was opening the blinds”—that evoke a quiet pastoralism.

“All right, we’re rolling, Jules. You ready?” the singer asks at the start of “Evening Blues (with Jules).” Here, we are given an over-the-shoulder shot of a father’s dialogue with his newborn son. But in other places, the subject of his address shifts to the listener, or to the singer himself, “…making you believe / You could be somebody else.”

These songs recall those you might find on a ’70s private press folk record—maybe Jeff Cowell or a Robert Lester Folsom. The production is crisper, here, but it features the same esoteric yearning, as if a veil hangs between the listener and the full-bodied force of the singer’s melancholy.

The very name of the record suggests a desire to codify the personal and the traditional. It’s a desire that lends Piedmont Pastimes a cohesive structure, one which guides us through to this pleasant aural journey’s end.

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