Smart Flesh may have been recorded in a vast, abandoned pasta sauce factory in Rhode Island, but it sounds anything like it. The follow-up to Oh My God, Charlie Darwin is as warm, fuzzy and intimate as if these 11 tracks were put down in a tiny living room with thick shag carpets, an open fire and a Saint Bernard as a draught excluder in front of the door.
Where its predecessor sometimes jarred, with its combination of raw bluesy rock and gentle acoustics, Smart Flesh is a more unified beast, whose woody, country tones harks back to an earlier age. The term ‘timeless’ is bandied about all too readily when talking about modern folk, but tracks like the effortlessly hummable ‘Apothecary Love’ and ‘I’ll Take Out Your Ashes’, possibly the first paean to cremation, could have been written and recorded any time over the last century.
There are a couple of moments where the amps are cranked up, like the powerhouse ‘Boeing 737’, which crashes into consciousness on waves of battered electric guitars, but for the most part, this is about the cosy, confidential magic that can be created by the simple combination of guitar, banjo, voice and drums, nowhere moreso than the epic seven-minute title track, a whispered confessional that crawls under your skin like some of the finest songs in Dylan’s back catalogue.
Smart Flesh unashamedly country, without an alt. prefix, its lo-fi tendencies won’t be to everyone’s tastes and it does dip a little in its mid-section, but along with The Decemberists, Ben Knox Miller, Jeff Prystowsky, Jocie Adams and Mat Davidson are sounding a (quiet) clarion call for a new golden age of folk.