Last Of The Blacksmiths - Last Of The Blacksmiths

Cool, calm and reflective.




I suppose I may as well start with the cover. There's a picture of some overgrown back garden and somebody has scrawled the words "Last of the Blacksmiths" on the fence. At first I thought it was a ransom note of sorts and somebody had stolen the Incendiary shed, but then I came to my senses. After all, I was sitting in the Incendiary shed when I opened the envelope. The cover unfolds to reveal a bunch of hand scrawled lyrics and sleeve notes. The writing isn't that messy, but it's not exactly good penmanship at the same time. Even so, I was impressed with the cover and truth be told, I liked the name too. It was time to read the press bumpf. Blacksmiths. Last of them. San Francisco. Self Released. Hmm. Recorded live on an old fashioned 8 track. Only seven tracks worked. This was either going to be something brilliant or a piece of crap recorded in the basement of a house shared by some Bay surfing kids with dreadlocks. I have no idea as to whether they are surfers or not and I don't know if any of them have dreadlocks, (two of them are shrouded in darkness on the photograph inside the sleeve, so it's kind of hard to tell) but this album is a beautiful piece of work.


The opening track, Knowing Me, just drifts by like a cold breeze. It's cool, refreshing and depending on what type of mood you're in it will either fill you with joy or make you want to cry. The lyrics are filled with self pity, "Knowing me at times gets me down", but the tune itself stops it sounding too "woe is me" for its own good. I was pleased to note that the lyrics weren't actually written by a member of the band itself which helped a lot, I think. They were written by somebody called Rufus Wanta, but I'll come back to him later.

Columbus Stockade Blues is an old traditional arrangement and it suits the Blacksmiths (as I shall refer to them from now on) down to the ground. Nathan Wanta (surely a relative of the Rufus I shall talk more about later) has a gorgeous voice. Soft, gentle but strong at the same time, (the type of vocal range that sheet music lovers call a legato I think) it adds a sense of charm and poise to the song. It's surrounded by some wonderful vocal harmonies and backed by some of the most beautiful mandolin playing I've ever heard. It's a prison song, but it's Cool Hand Luke cool and I love it.


Russian River begins with a standard Blues riff but thankfully develops into something more satisfying. The song tells the story of our narrator and Little John heading down to the river where "John's Pa went under" and listening to some music tapes. One of the bands was Wham! which, frankly, is a selection that is as much out of the left field as you can get here as there's nothing remotely poppy about this song. Certainly it's not the type of song that feels inspired by George Michael's hairy chest and tan, that's for sure. It's a solemn song but it's still pretty gorgeous.


Tree Song is, well, about a tree and a depressed tree at that. I don't really know what to say about it apart from it's a beautiful and haunting piece of music and for the sake of the poor tree, please teach your kids how to climb.


Pushing Down ups the tempo and the noise level a bit. The guitars growl into life and the drums tip tap and splash their way through three and a half minutes of some very impressive music. The guitars almost sound like somebody bashing a bunch of aluminium sheets with a large hammer and yet they still sound rather interesting. There's a clever quiet/loud structure at play in it too and the guitar solo near the end is truly gorgeous and feels totally warranted because it adds a deeper texture to the tune rather than simply being an excuse for the guitarist to show off a bit.


Pete McKensie is a slow country folk tune that should be played around camp fires the world over. Once again there's some wonderfully understated mandolin playing hiding in the mix and the story of little Pete and his dancing freckles is one that will make you smile, without ever really making you think too hard. The harmonies are truly wonderful too. In My Hands has the same kind of tune, but it's written by Rufus Wanta and we'll be getting around to him and this song a bit later, so bear with me.


Out at Night has a bit of an attitude but it kicks itself along in a manner that should please most of you. Saloon Song reminds me of Aimee Mann at the beginning, which is rather nice, but then it starts to remind me of Supertramp and that isn't so nice. Then, in the last minute or so it turns into something that sounds like nothing like Aimee Mann, nor Supertramp and it becomes very good indeed, which is a relief. A New Way is very nice indeed and is the third song written by that man Rufus and I swear I'll be getting round to talking about him soon, so just hang in there. Conrad's Rag is a jaunty instrumental that hangs some finger picked guitar and the occasional drum slap around one of those mouth keyboard things. What are they called, Vibraphones? I'm sure some of our more anally retentive readers will enlighten me. At any rate, even though it doesn't particularly go anywhere truly impressive, Conrad's Rag is still a lot better than it has any right to be and a lot better than I've just described it.


The album rounds off with Grass Blade, which is very good indeed. It's cool, calm and reflective, which seems to be the Blacksmiths' way of doing things but it's a stunning song. There's a kind of relaxed, slow jazz tempo driving it, especially when the keyboards join in during the middle section, which makes the tune seem rather classy and the playing itself is very impressive without being flash.


Musically, the Blacksmiths aren't the most exciting or invigorating and I'd find it hard to say that they're a happy bunch, but perhaps that's just because of all the fog they have to live with in the Bay Area. (As an Englishman I know how that can feel!) What they are though, is a very impressive group of musicians that have crafted, with dodgy equipment and a few rolls of gaffer tape by the sounds of it, an album that they can be truly proud of. I like these Blacksmiths, I really do. They're a somber bunch and I can't see me playing the album when I'm getting ready to paint the town red but for those moments when I need to clear my mind, or just want to relax with a bottle of Ruby Cabernet, this will do very nicely indeed. It's cool, it's calm and it's reflective, as I have mentioned before and I suggest you check this out. I sincerely hope this isn't the last I hear from the Last of the Blacksmiths.




Now then, about that Rufus Wanta character. If I were just to judge him on the lyrics for Knowing Me and A New Way I wouldn't be writing anything at all, save for perhaps telling him to lighten up a bit, but I've made you hang on this long to talk about the lyrics to In My Hands. The song is structured like your average Christian folk song but to be honest and frank about it, I'm worried. Let's have a look at the lyrics a little closer shall we?


         "In my hands, I hold the light.

         With my hands I'll cure your sight.

         In my hands, I have powers to heal.

         With my hands, your sins I'll steal."


Does this guy have a messiah complex or what? I mean, later on he writes, "In my hands, I hold the breath of life." Really? Then we're all saved, surely. Praise be to Rufus.


Ok, it's relatively harmless I suppose, but the last guy who started writing stuff like this and lived in the San Francisco Bay Area gathered his own family of followers together through music and set them off into the night to kill the famous residents of Laurel Canyon. Know who I'm talking about? (If not, ask your parents) I'm all for there being a Last of the Blacksmiths following. Hell, I want to be part of it. I just think we should keep an eye on this Rufus character. That's all I'm saying.


Words : Damian Leslie