LaTresa- Love, Babies, Jesus, and Sweet Potato Pie…review

LaTresa- Love, Babies, Jesus, and Sweet Potato Pie… BoonDog Records

Review by Donald Teplyske

Love, Babies, Jesus, and Sweet Potato Pie… is the second bluegrass release from Nashville-based songwriter and singer LaTresa Smith. With her band The Signal, she has created an enjoyable album of contemporary bluegrass flavored with the Mississippi Delta sounds (give a listen to “Sweet Potato Pie” for some of the aforementioned Delta sultriness) that informed her childhood listening.

Released late in 2011, L, B, J, & SPP took its time finding its way to me, but I am pleased that it finally made an appearance. Self-released bluegrass projects are sometimes tricky to review, with the vision of the producing group often exceeding the execution of the music. Few writers wish to bury a hard-working band with words of negativity. No such problems here, as The Storm have created a release of which they can be proud: ten Smith compositions that gently delve into the culture of the south within appealing bluegrass sounds.

“Why I’m Blue” takes on an unwanted break-up with vivid poetic images (“bitter words and stubborn pride have laid my love to waste”) softened by the deft interplay of the various musicians. On this track in particular, the mandolin and banjo of (I’m presuming here, based on the general liner notes) of Jon Martin and Markus Stadler work with Smith’s guitar to produce a fabric of sound that is both comforting and uplifting.

With individual musician credits not provided, I’m not positive which fiddle parts are Megan Lynch’s and which are Matt Raum’s, but together the pair provide substantial emotion. I’ve been following Lynch’s career from a distance since I first heard her with (if I recall correctly) Chris Stuart’s Backcountry a decade ago at Nanton’s Shady Grove fest, so it is always pleasing to see her name in liner notes, even if I’m not sure exactly which notes she is playing.

LaTresa swings a little on “The Mississippi,” the bluesy tale of mama’s advice and young love, another number that features some wonderful banjo and mandolin interludes. She drifts a little further on the snappy adult-lullaby “Sweet Li’l Baby.”

Mournful fiddling announces “I Miss My Home,” the type of song that wouldn’t be out-of-place on any bluegrass stage. Saving the song from being just another hackneyed version of the past are both LaTresa’s passionate vocal approach and the intensity of the words she sings including the beautifully descriptive, “The moon is a pale shade of gray again tonight, and the stars in their sky still refuse to share their light.”

Love, Babies, Jesus, and Sweet Potato Pie… is one of those albums you’ll have to seek out to encounter as it is an independent release with limited distribution. It is a little bit smooth, and has country overtones that may be off-putting to some bluegrass listeners. Depending on personal taste, it may become a new favorite.

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