Art Folk. I like that term. I like how it fits the music of Oakes & Smith…from what I can hear in their new EP, they’re deserving of such an apt-title for the songs they’re writing. The pictures online make it seem like Robert Oakes and Katherine Smith are closer-than-close…but any romantic-link would only be an assumption on my part. I mean…it SOUNDS like love…I can tell you that…and I can tell you that at the very least, music doesn’t tend to ever get to this kind of beautiful combination without having some base in deep mutual admiration and respect for how each other approach their craft. They have a very unified, comforting and natural sound…and maybe they know it; ”So Beautiful” could just as easily be a title for this EP or a new genre created just for their music as it is the name of the gorgeous opening tune. As their new EP Between The Earth And The Sky begins…you can’t help but hear the connection they have to each other…and to the music they make; “So Beautiful,” it truly is.
Share “Closer to Home” (ft Jon Anderson of “YES”):
As the guitars and pianos carry the melody of “So Beautiful,” Katherine Smith takes the vocal-lead to a dreamlike atmosphere…there’s real texture and substance to her voice…real emotion. She easily joins into the inviting sounds created by Robert Oakes in perfect complement…but you just wait until they combine their vocals in harmony – because that’s where the real magic in this combination resides. Fantastic writing is immediately on display with “So Beautiful” making its impact in mere seconds and establishing it firmly by the time the first song ends; the way this EP opens will leave you with little doubt about the quality that follows…you can tell these two have a real songwriter’s gift.
Like, take “Presence” for example…and the way that they wind their vocals every which-way. Smith is layered in the chorus along with Oakes for another fantastic sound and perhaps even stronger chorus. Right around the two-minute mark they slightly mirror the feeling in the flow of “The Great Beyond” by R.E.M. for a brief moment…and there are a few scattered moments throughout the EP that actually remind me quite a bit of that favourite band of mine…but for the most part, you’re hearing something more like a cross between Karen Carpenter, Carole King and modern day acts like K’s Choice or The Head And The Heart. Oakes & Smith keep it all close to a genuine folk sound without going too far into other genres…but like all four of those listed comparisons…these two certainly hit the mark when it comes to their own song-writing. Katherine sounds extraordinary in “Presence” and the violin/guitar combination from Robert has created an incredible atmosphere that is seriously loaded with emotion. Katherine uses the expanse of the musical terrain & landscape with grace, elegance and pure-beauty; “Presence” is a real gem lyrically and highlights just how long we can truly love someone…and how that love can outlast our own time here & how that “Presence,” memory & impact of that energy never really dies.
“Never Let The Light Die” brings in a slightly more powerful composition in the music…though by the sound of it, it’s also one that leans more closely towards the pop-side of folk-music. BUT…that being said…YOU have a listen to it and tell me if it really matters what category it falls into; it becomes irrelevant quickly – all you want to hear is MORE of it. Their imagery is fantastic and the words are much like poetry on “Never Let The Light Die” – and as reliable as ever, Katherine makes every moment sparkle & shine with a truly stunning performance to match the incredible diamond-like atmosphere that Robert’s created for this tune. Very smartly written tunes…again…it’s all to the point where you have to assume these two have spent many a late-night writing and truly know each other inside & out – everything they’ve created on Between The Earth And The Sky really highlights their strengths as a unified entity and the real magic they share when combining their talents.
“Surrender” if anything I thought might be the more difficult tune for the people to stick with. Not a bad song by any means, but with its stripped-down energy coming after the brightness of “Never Let The Light Die” it does feel like the EP moves significantly slower as it heads towards the end and “Surrender” churns through its emotions. Again, impossible to argue just how fantastic the two of them sound together when they sing; “Surrender” has some of the best ideas on how to bring in the backing-vocals along into the music…it’s a very pretty song. I think “Surrender” is one of the tunes that more strongly represents the Oakes & Smith that exist overall in music and really puts that artistic-element into their brand of folk-music.
Brilliant vocal-pattern to the flow of the final song “Closer To Home” which brings in the talents of Jon Anderson to assist. Whether you examine the verse, the chorus, the entire second-life that “Closer To Home” takes on as it passes its middle, the gorgeous ending, the amazing lyrics…it doesn’t matter how you hold it up or how the light hits it – this is another stunning song delivered perfectly. Extraordinarily well-executed – “Closer To Home” builds upon itself epically and the final moments are breathtaking as the vocals all swirl into the atmosphere as one, all putting the authenticity into the lyrics that the words deserve. Katherine has never sounded more-sweet than on this final song; everything about “Closer To Home” is a complete win.
It’s a tough thing for acts like this to make it out there…but it’s clearly music that deserves its moment and several spins through your playlists. Folk-music shot out of the cannon hard over the past five-years…and now it’s back to fighting for its time out there like it’s always been throughout the years. Thankfully…Oakes & Smith have what you call a ‘timeless-sound’ – and while there will no doubt be a ton of switches back & forth over what dominates our mainstream over the years to come – it’s music like this that truly never gets old.
Find out more about them at their official page at: http://oakesandsmith.net/
JER@SBS – http://sleepingbagstudios.ca/