The Savage Hearts – Playing It Forward
The first album from Americana five piece The Savage Hearts, Playing It Forward, is a memorable debut release both for the quality of its performances and ambition. The ambition isn’t typical. There are no stylistic explorations here in an attempt to redefine the form. Annie Savage, an educator and performer, is a classically trained violinist who has gained a reputation as an educator thanks to her instructional method with the instrument. Savage’s students appear throughout the course of the album and other guest players make their presence felt as well. The production captures Playing It Forward’s eleven songs with startling clarity and intimacy. It might read as cliché, but the presentation is well done enough that the warm sonic qualities of the release make it sound like the band is a short distance away.
The album consists largely of lyrically driven numbers. The first, “Age”, is a cover of Jim Croce’s song and has a bluegrass driven arrangement quite different from Croce’s approach, but sharing a similar spirit. “Compadres of the Sierra Madre” gives their Tex-Mex influences a chance to come through within the context of a swing style. It’s a hybrid of a style they’ll revisit again later and perfectly suits the high-toned cinematic aspects of the lyric. Annie Savage gives an intensely melodic vocal./”Faded Love” takes on the aforementioned swing style, but this is a much purer exponent of the form and there’s a good reason why. It is a Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys cover, perhaps one of that iconic unit’s seminal tracks, but The Savage Hearts never play this like its some museum piece. Instead, they fill the song with a singular beauty that pays tribute to the original while lighting their own version with an individual and modern glow.
The bluesy pallor of “Workin’ on a Building” seems to undercut its lyrical faith, but this is more about a speaker who’s beating their head against a wall for salvation rather than a narrator who is transcending their sins. It’s easily the darkest performance on the album and has immense soulfulness thanks to the interplay between Savage’s vocals and Kit Simon’s guitar. The bluegrass standard “Don’t Cry Blue”, made famous by the Lonesome River Band, receives a rambunctious and joyful outing thanks to Simon’s vocal. Savage returns for her final vocal on the album with the ballad-minded “High Road”. It’s another song with strong storytelling attributes and her vocal has much more of an emotive edge than anything else except the earlier “Workin’ on a Building”.
One of the album’s three instruments, the last and penultimate song on the album, “Rites of Man” has an almost classical feel that’s surely the result of Savage’s direct influence. It features a double fiddle approach that carries the circular sounding melody. The album’s last track “Child’s Song” is Kevin Slick’s best song on the release. The central melody he builds the song around has an ancient quality – though you’ve never heard it before, you’ll be convinced you have on a first listen. He sings the gently exultant lyrics with exquisitely sensitive phrasing and children’s voice join him as backing singers on the chorus and help conclude the song. It’s a beautiful bow on the top of a true gift for music listeners and fans of the genre specifically. The Savage Hearts have made a memorable impact with their first release.
9 out of 10 stars.