Smokestack Slim's 'A Tender Jest' is a Timeless Gem
Buckle in folks. We're in for a ride.
Bring your whiskey, bring your wine, bring your grass. We’re going on a trip. To a psychedelic wonderland called A Tender Jest. Swinging. The 60s honey. And a smattering of the 70s for good measure.
Dillon Feeney and Toby Arrow, the pair behind Smokestack Slim, released A Tender Jest, a 14 track release on Sunday night. The record has been a long time in the making. Way back in January, the pair teased us with the stellar single I Don’t Mean. Another two singles arrived in May... we waited.... and waited... but alas! The wait is over! We revel, for A Tender Jest is here.
The music is an intriguing blend of country, psychedelia and pop music. It's lives somewhere between the desert, a Midwest saloon and a big city, inspired by the early psych bands of the 60s and 70s.
A Tender Jest is a perfect inversion of all things contemporary. Smokestack Slim’s approach, their embracing of the past, could be interpreted as a proverbial fuck you to all the musos and listeners caught up in modern day, internet trends. Not that Smokestack Slim cares. A Tender Jest isn’t different with the intention of difference. The music on A Tender Jest is the music the duo holds closest to heart. It’s the honky tonk world the band lives in.
The musicianship is unquestionable throughout. The album sings to the technical abilities of the musicians replete with key changes, freakish guitar work, layered percussion and floating harmonies. There's a lot to admire. Unlike so many other 20-something year olds DIY musicians, self producing at home, A Tender Jest is a rich, well-heeled release. It's not lofi or gritty. It's a superbly put together record.
The record changes mood frequently. The opener, Not Much Was There, is a gorgeous, romantic, slow burner. Two tracks later, We There Yet, kicks up a few gears, breaking into a frantic orgy, organ hammering away, guitars driving. Songs like Winston will take you to the desert, rattlesnakes and acid, while tunes like A Sack of Potatoes will transport you back to the tavern, cowboys kicking about.
At 14 tracks, A Tender Jest doesn't tire. It holds it's own from start to finish and demands to be listened to the whole way through.
The album was recorded throughout 2017, at Feeney and Arrow's Auckland flat. The project was stalled on numerous occasions for the lamest reason possible - money. Between the exuberant cost of living in Auckland, along with the added expense of recording to reel to reel cassette tape, A Tender Jest hit a number of delays. The duo hustled, scraped together the funds and finished the record, all for our listening pleasuring (if you're so inclined, buy the album here).
Feeney and Arrow's psych country opus is a record for the ages. The duo know exactly what kind of music they want to create and they're unafraid to create it. In doing so, they've created a timeless masterpiece, fearless, full of gusto and completely sure of itself. So stop whatever you're doing and listen to Smokestack Slim.
Words and Photos by Sam Fraser-Baxter