A few months ago I was chatting with a friend from my old stomping grounds in Dallas, TX. We were discussing new music we were both excited about, during which the duo Smile Smile was brought to my attention. She was kind enough to send me a copy of their folky debut LP, Blue Roses. After giving the disc a few listens, they have proved that the curse of Dallas still holds true, as the best music from North Texas never escapes to the rest of the country. With only a handful of exceptions, bands just get stuck in the vacuum of the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I can only hope that Smile Smile ends up as one of the lucky ones to break out of the Lone Star State.
The duo is comprised of Ryan Hamilton (vocals & guitar) and Jencey Hirunrusme (vocals & piano). With such paired down instrumentation, the emphasis is placed on strong melodies rather than lush arrangements. Besides the occasional bit of percussion, there isn't much more than the beauty of their vocal harmonies accompanied by guitars and piano. They do kick off Blue Roses with the one "plugged-in" track, "Anymore." This catchy pop track tosses in an upbeat drum beat and a bouncing bass line to compliment the normal Smile Smile piano + guitar formula found elsewhere on the album.
The sunny pop quickly fades away, leading us to the cloudy "Your Life." The harmonies between Hamilton and Hirunrusme are stunning, sounding as if Ryan Adams and Hope Sandoval decided to hop into the studio after getting their hearts broken. Another highlight is "Taking Its Toll," which actually reminded me of the some of the duets between Glen Hansard (The Frames) and Marketa Irglova during the film Once. There intimate songwriting and performance styles almost make it seem like you're in their living room, listening as they are working through their songs for the first time. It makes for a very personal listening experience, showing the strength in the musicianship and songwriting of this duo.
Although this might not be an album you'll want to throw on your iPod for a summertime roadtrip, Smile Smile's Blue Roses works perfectly during a bit of a rainstorm while hiding from the weather on your sofa. Hamilton and Hirunrusme's words and music sometimes feel like you've discovered a stranger's personal journal. It is simple, honest and mighty good.