By Alessandro Improta
So, we are a little late on this album review. About 26 years too late. However, in our defense, it was re-released only a few months ago.
In the late 80’s, the members of Provo band Audrey Smilley were in college. They played all the Provo and Salt Lake clubs, cut a self titled record, and went out to LA to live the musician’s dream and make it big. “[It was] bad timing, of course,” band member Dale Garrard says. “In retrospect, we should have done Seattle. We unfortunately grew up and got real jobs and moved away from each other.”
It’s a common tale. The dream often dies under the neon lights of the city you thought would make it all come true. But this is where the story gets interesting. Fast forward a couple decades. At the request of some fans, the band reunited in Provo and booked a show at Velour. “People started asking for our recordings again, so we did a Kickstarter and dug out the old analog recordings and remastered the whole thing,” says Garrard.
Boy am I glad that they did. This album is great! Listening to the album made me feel as if the music and band had been held in a time capsule for 26 years, and I was the first person to open it up.
Maybe the story and the novelty made me a little biased while listening, but I absolutely loved this album. It sounds like R.E.M. with some 60’s Beach Boys era influence, and a hint of the later DC Hardcore scene – think Rites of Spring – that was happening around the same time Audrey Smilley was making waves here in Provo.
“Alone” is a perfect opener for the album. It opens up strong with the whole band hitting together on the same notes. Noticeable immediately is the tone of the instruments. Those guitars sound about as late 80’s as is physically possible. And that bass! As bassist, I melt for great bass tone, and the tone on the bass is spectacular throughout the entire album. I miss great tone. In this age of digital music, great tone is not something that is commonplace in popular music. Then again, neither are real instruments. But I digress. “Alone” immediately ages the album. The chorus says, “And now she spends her nights alone, just waiting by the telephone, and maybe in a while he’s gonna make that call.” In an age of cellular devices, the idea of a stationary telephone could leave younger listeners confused. Regardless of the relevance of the lyrics today, the chorus is fantastic. Very anthemic. Back up vocals are used brilliantly here. Very reminiscent of The Tubes.
The lead vocals on “She” are absolutely spectacular. Though most of the song is sung very straight, the lead vocalist uses a strong vibrato to round out his longer notes. That is a great change of pace and really adds emotion. The backup vocals, again, are used to perfection – filling out the sonic space and creating subtle tension that, when resolved, feels about as satisfying as popping bubble wrap. There is a funny moment right at 4:59 where one of the lower harmonies comes in quite sharp in your left ear, but the singer quickly finds his note. Some might think that a mistake like that can take away from a track, but I would not be counted amongst them. In my opinion, emotion and honesty is often lost through pitch correction and other forms of overproduction. Instrumentally, this song is not a complicated one, but it stays interesting with phenomenal tone and by giving you little bits of ear candy along the way. The bass in the verses, for example, has a simple ascending line of four whole notes, but he switches it up by playing a harmonic on the last of the whole notes. My favorite bit of ear candy is in the chorus when the guitar punctuates each of the three phrases by bending his pitch down using a whammy bar. Just a brilliantly placed bit of guitar work.
I am thoroughly impressed with this album. This trip back in time has been a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, Audrey Smilley was a victim of circumstance. I am not sure what the Provo music scene was like back then, but I doubt that it was what it is now. I can’t help but wonder what Audrey Smilley may have been able to achieve if they had the infrastructure and the resources that are available to Provo musicians today. This is why we at Reach Provo do what we do. We want to do everything we can to build up the legitimacy and stability of the music scene here, so that the incredibly talented people of Provo can have the means to make a living from their art. We owe it to the Audrey Smilleys out there.
Audrey Smilley is planning on making a return to Provo later this summer. If all goes well, you can expect a new record. As Garrard put it, “It’s different writing on this side of the life experience. Can’t wait to hear what we invent now.” Well, neither can we. In the meantime the Audrey Smilley of 1990 will have to do.