Smooth Hound Smith, who released their third album, Dog In A Manger, last month on Tone Tree and will be performing at Club Cafe on Oct. 6th. On Dog In A Manger, Zack Smith and Caitlin Doyle-Smith channel deep emotion into arrangements that somehow feel at once timeless and immediate. The songs salute the far corners of the Americana world, touching upon everything from greasy, big-city blues to acoustic folk. There are slide guitar solos, coed harmonies, a Fleetwood Mac cover and a cameo by the North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther Dickinson. Wide Open Country said, “Smooth Hound Smith put their emotional baggage front and center on the hauntingly beautiful Dog in a Manger,” while Glide stated, “Smooth Hound Smith are certainly in the top tier of the many duos we’ve heard from this year.”
The saga of Smooth Hound Smith – husband-and-wife duo Zack Smith and Caitlin Doyle-Smith – begins in Southern California. It winds from there through countless club gigs to East Nashville, with a detour through big-time arena shows opening for The Dixie Chicks and finally to a new album, on which the seeds planted by experience blossom into a sound unlike that of any other artist. Smooth Hound Smith will release Dog In A Manger on August 9 via Tone Tree.
The songs on Dog in a Manger‘s tracklist salute the far corners of the Americana world, touching upon everything from greasy, big-city blues to acoustic folk. There are slide guitar solos, coed harmonies, a Fleetwood Mac cover and a cameo by the North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther Dickinson tossed into the mix, too.
The album is the third effort from the duo, and while their previous releases evince their unique vocal blend and ability to coax compelling music from minimal instrumentation, Dog In A Manger brings it all to a higher level of expression.
Zack’s writing is more concise yet more communicative than ever — Caitlin calls it “denser.” Their melodies, hooks and harmonies are in balance. Each song seems to stem from everyday, even mundane incidents. For example, over a sunny, skipping groove, “Life Isn’t Fair” recalls a friend who would, in Zack’s words, “constantly make himself the victim.” “Waiting For A Spark” cites the New Testament and Plato in picturing someone who is “weighing her options, just looking for … any little glimpse of light.”
Accessible as the music of Smooth Hound Smith can be, the underlying arc that unifies Dog In A Manger is elusive.
“I wasn’t conscious of it as I was writing this songs,” Zack explains. “But I realized when I finished that I can relate the lyrics back to was what my dad went through before he passed. He had been diagnosed with CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease), which attacks the brain. Literally one in a million people suffer from it. There is no cure. The fatality rate is 100 percent, usually within a year.”
In fact, he died just three weeks after being diagnosed, though Zack and Caitlin were able to make it back to L.A. to say goodbye literally minutes before he passed. “That really lit a fire under my ass to get things done in a way I couldn’t have predicted, Zack says. “Caitlin and I knew it was sink or swim. We had to put out new content and it had to be good.”
Caitlin also made a suggestion early in the process that would significantly affect how she and Zack would approach Dog In A Manger. “Around the time his father passed, we went out dinner,” she recalls. “And I told him that I wanted to step back on this album because he had more than he needed to express artistically at that time. Of course, I was there throughout it all, adding my input. But it was right that he would take the reins.”
Recorded intermittently rather than in one marathon session, Dog In A Manger began in their living room, tracked on Pro Tools. The results channel deep emotion into arrangements that somehow feel at once timeless and immediate. The lyrics never recount the events underlying the project, though through understatement and insightful irony they tap into the urgency that often flows below the surface of everyday living.
As much as they’ve achieved with Dog In A Manger, Smooth Hound Smith know that this is just one stop down their path toward promising horizons. “Caitlin and I feel like this is exploratory,” Zack explains. “It’s like, say, leather working: If you put in five or ten years of working leather, you’re going to be pretty good at it. If anybody throws a job at you, you’ll be able to do it.
“I feel that way about music. Everyone of our songs is a little different from the others. The next song I write could be the best one I’ve ever written. It could be the worst song I’ve ever written. But I do know that five years from now Caitlin and i are gonna be making music much better than anything we’d made before.”
A point well proven by Dog In A Manger, the next step in a unique adventure.