On The Widow’s Walk is the sixth studio album from Emmy nominee Jake Smith, but curiously it’s producer Shooter Jennings who’s seemingly grabbing the attention with this release. Admittedly it’s quite a coup to have someone of Jennings’ calibre on board. The son of Waylon Jennings, he’s also a musician of considerable note, having worked with the likes of Duff McKagan and Marilyn Manson. But this is Smith’s album from start to finish, and it deserves to be recognised as such.
Under the moniker of The White Buffalo, Smith’s intention is (presumably) to come across as something more substantial and forceful than a mere singer-songwriter. From the first moments of On The Widow’s Walk, it’s clear he’s is fired up. Finding a meeting point between Bruce Springsteen, The Pogues and Dropkick Murphys, he offers up a healthy shot of country fried rock with a side order of punk enthusiasm. Intriguingly, midway through it changes tack, transforming from rock blast into a jauntily positive stomp. This willingness to stray from the blueprints of straight-up Americana, folk and rock makes On The Widow’s Walk a varied and constantly engaging listen.
The key is Smith’s vocals, which are absolutely pitch perfect throughout. There’s a warmth to his tone, with a slightly rough edge that he uses carefully to sound by turns welcoming, damaged, and occasionally barnstorming. It’s a voice that would be equally at home in a cosy bar singing songs of dark regret in front of a crackling fire on a dark and stormy night, or in front of a jubilant festival crowd belting out tunes of redemption.
No History fits into the songs of joy category, as it heads down the country rock road, throwing a little Creedence into the mix as Smith embraces the positivity of living in the moment. “You can’t hold the hands of time, there’s only here and now and nothing more,” he croons before adding in “There’s only one way to be free – no history” which, in the way he tells it, sounds rather appealing.
The album’s first half feels upbeat even when confronting tales of woe. Come On Shorty in particular is full of heartbreak, but possesses a lolloping gait and steely heart that feels positively jaunty, although part of that is down to Smith taking control of the situation. Only Sycamore bucks this trend. A heartfelt ballad, it finds Smith lost at sea, with his heart longing for the comforts of the dry land and the love of his life. It’s a key moment, setting up a theme that pulls these songs together. As the album moves into a more downbeat second half, Smith develops his lyrical imagery of water, sea and themes of loss.
If Smith is lost at sea during Sycamore, Widow’s Walk finds a lover standing on the widow’s walk of their house, staring out over the ocean. A widow’s walk is an architectural design found on coastal properties, where, supposedly, mariners’ wives could watch for the returning of their loved ones from their seabound adventures, hoping they’d not been claimed by the waves. This piano led tale of a woman whose love has after all been lost at sea pulls heavily on the heartstrings.
River Of Love And Loss channels the spirit of Johnny Cash, not just vocally but with bleak storytelling. The man does just come around, but then heads to the river and drowns, all in the name of love and regret. Elsewhere, when he’s not immersed in water, he’s invoking The Rapture whilst burying secrets in deep dark woods, covered in mud and timber against a stripped back arrangement that finds Smith howling in the dark, losing control, albeit in a distinctly tuneful way.
Closer I Don’t Know A Thing About Love is slow and beautifully delivered, with a palpable sense of passion, which suggests that Smith might, actually, know a thing or two about love. He certainly knows how to make a heartfelt and impassioned album, for that’s exactly what he’s done with On The Widow’s Walk.