As founder of the Hot Club of Cowtown, Whit Smith is known far and wide as one of the kings of western swing guitar. But on his new solo EP, On the Nature of Strings, Smith gets to stretch a little by focusing less on the western and more on the swing. In doing so, he proves he’s a master of both.
For his first album as leader, Smith gathered some of Austin’s shining stars (guitarist JD Pendley, drummer Buck Johnson, and Hot Club cohort Jake Erwin on upright bass) at the renowned Fort Horton Studios to ensure a warm, retro vibe, and together they’ve created a collection of tunes that feels nothing less than timeless.
As Smith and Pendley blaze through the icy swing of “Brave Companion” and navigate the slippery “Baby Steps,” fans of Johnny Smith and George Barnes will do well to contain a smile. “Passing Lane” veers closer to the territory of jumpin’ Jimmy Bryant, while the gorgeous acoustic melancholy of “Deep Pockets” recalls the more sophisticated stylings of Eddie Lang.
Though Smith’s idols are evident throughout, he’s able to transcend his influences due to the strength of the songs, soloing, and tight ensemble work, all of which ensure this is much more than an exercise in nostalgia.
Packed with slick, harmonized melodies and sly solos, On the Nature of Strings is a short, swinging set of melodic instrumentals that evokes the ghosts of jazz masters past, yet feels wholly contemporary and absolutely essential. This is a dazzling showcase for Whit Smith. Hopefully, he’ll feel the need to stretch again, and soon.