Steven R. Smith "Crown of Marches"
Housed in a beautiful black-on-black digipack, Thuja guitarist and Hala Strana proprietor, Steven R. Smith's latest solo offering is his most ambitious. Packaging can say a lot about an album, and "Crown of Marches" exemplifies this notion. Smith's angular playing style is methodic and hypnotizing. He has always had the ability to create singular, massive walls of sound that surround you like the morning fog. His albums are always dense. Endless, introspective wreckage permeates these recordings, and as Smith traverses the jagged edges, he truly shines.
"Crown of Marches" is a departure from his previous solo efforts in that it is only one track. Of course, said track is over 40 minutes long, but this new format is gasoline on a fire. Smith thrives in this context. It gives him so much more room to explore and expand on his ideas, pushing them to their very end. There are multiple movements within the context of this sprawling piece, though a constant thread holds everything together throughout. It's a delicate balance, but Smith never falters.
Smith's distinct guitar tone is the bones of "Crown of Marches." Over the past few albums, he has cemented his place as one of my favorite guitarists performing today. There's hints of Loren Connors in his playing, but his style is definitely his own. There's something darker lurking underneath the surface. The distorted expressions are full of tension, wound like a steel cable supporting the weight of the world. It's moving, to say the least.
Also notable on this release are the ancillary instruments that Smith employs. Like with his Hala Strana project, there is hurdy gurdy, psaltery, organ, xaphoon, and others. These extra additions do a great deal for the general feel and texture of the song. They're like the slight imperfections that make people and places seem real. They're the misadventures that bring life to its knees.
Steven R. Smith has shown time and time again that he is a master musician. "Crown of Marches" is another, quite impressive feather in his cap. Few artists can thrive in such a daunting setting, but Smith weaves threads of pure gold. This is near-perfection from one of the best, and that's surely something you don't want to miss. Essential. 9/10 -- Brad Rose (26 September, 2005)