Record Review: Misner and Smith’s “Live at the Freight and Salvage” in Berkeley, California
“Sometimes so lost all I knew was my name,” sings Megan Smith with Sam Misner on “Greyhound Days”, a song of the newest work from their duo Misner and Smith. This song is their modern version of a timeless lost on the road, hopping the train tale: “Never trust comfort, it’s weak and it lies/Have faith in the struggle, don’t rest till you die”. The two Northern California natives have recorded original Americana and Roots music since 2004. Their newest release is a live album from their performance at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, and is therefore a perfect introduction for the new listener to their music, as the album features a stunning array of their work to date. It is their third album release. The two met while acting in the classic play “Woody Guthrie’s American Song” (Marin Theater Company), which has been performed across the U.S. since it was written in the 80’s.
They are known for their beautiful use of vocal harmonies. Megan Smith plays the upright bass and mandolin, and Sam Misner plays guitar. This live album has a perfect pacing—some songs take a slow and mournful approach, while others feature guitar pickin’ madness. Misner wrote all the songs on this collection except “Wanderin’ Fool”, a heart-wrenching song about choosing to stay with your love, written by Smith. She writes a sizeable number of their songs though, and they are clearly both quite precocious. Anyone lucky enough to catch them in the “Woody Guthrie” play would attest to their creative force, as they are equally talented actors and musicians.
The lyrics are touching throughout, whether lamenting loneliness or spinning a fascinating old time story. Although their music is directly inspired by the country greats such as Woody Guthrie, in lyrics and sound, they feel very authentic and original. Highlights of their career so far are performances on the main stages at both the San Francisco and El Cerrito Folk Festivals, and their recent headlining show at Berkeley’s famed acoustic venue, the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse. The band explains that some songs feature fictional characters, while others are autobiographical. A fascinating historical story examined by the band is their song “Triangle Factory Fire”—based on the true story of the infamous fire at the Triangle Waistcoat Factory in New York City in 1911—it gives the listener a first person perspective on the tragedy. Their song “Poor Player”, featured on this album recorded originally in 2008 and on their album of the same name, and was nominated in the New Folk category in one of the world’s largest international song contests put on by the Just Plain Folks music organization. Other fan favorites are included on the album as well, such as “Madeline (Paradise Cracked)” from their debut album Halfway Home, which won the West Coast Songwriters Association’s Song of the Year competition in 2007.
Sometimes the simplest choruses hit home the most, as do the lines “Will our hearts be lost and found?” (“Lost and Found”) performed right in the middle of their live set. Many listeners will feel their hearts have been found after discovering this promising duo. They just finished a tour in England and are on a California tour, stopping in Berkeley at the Starry Plough next Thursday, and in San Francisco on June 4th.
For more information, go to: http://www.misnerandsmith.com/shows.htm