Misner and Smith “All Is Song”

Independent, 2024

This album is a gem. Finely cut and polished, it has multiple facets and an inner sparkle. Like most gemstones, it has a flaw or two.

‘All Is Song’ is the sixth album of the Northern California-based duo,  Sam Misner and Megan Smith.  Firmly rooted – musically, just as much as physically – in the Bay area, they are one of the latest manifestations of a strand of Americana that goes back to the Fariñas and the Charlatans. Mimi and Richard Fariña were in the vanguard of the transition from the beats to the hippies. The Charlatans were one of the pioneer bands that combined folk, rock and country and key to the creation of the San Francisco sound which the  included Jefferson Airplane, Home Cooking, Quicksilver, and the Grateful Dead.

And now Misner and Smith whose album reprises the eclectic sounds of the 1960s West Coast.  This album is unlike some of their earlier releases, which had just the two of them on acoustic instruments. Here, they bring in other musicians and instrumentation to create a fuller, more complex sound. There is the distinctive ringing of a 12–string guitar, the unmistakable sound of a Hammond organ and a variety of percussion instruments including vibraphone, caxixi, and congas. The pedal steel and lap guitars add country sounds to the western. But the instruments aren’t the foundation of the sound, it’s the voices and the harmonies.

Smith arranges the harmonies. Paired with Misner she creates a sound as delightful as any of their predecessors, and just as distinctive.  Overall, it sounds light, yet rich, like the kind of cake you that uses eggs for leavening and requires time and attention rather than chemistry to raise it up. Something you want to come back to for seconds.

And then there are the words.  Both Misner and Smith are professional actors and it shows.  They love words. The first two verses of ‘Blow, Blow Though Winter Winds’ are by William Shakespeare with Misner writing the third, and it works. But not all Misner’s lyrics are as felicitous. For example, in ‘Deep as the Water’, the overwritten line “Future as bright as a murder of crows”. The occasional clinker, however, is more than balanced out by the many really good lines.

Indeed many of Misner’s lyrics could stand alone as poetry. As he said in a recent interview, “Reading and studying poetry was a big part of our training as actors…Learning about storytelling and metaphor, the way to use imagery and poetic structure to lift language to mean more than the sum of its parts.” The duo have also noted that their songwriting “has been influenced by playwrights and poets as much as it has been influenced by songwriters” and that this album is a “kind of a collection of short stories.” That sounds about right. All 15 songs on the album tell stories.

Tales that speak of the overall lightness of being, elements of the spirit that you still find in the air of San Francisco despite it becoming the city of Google and Facebook. Put some flowers in your hair, sit back and revel in this album.

All is Song by Misner & Smith

8/10
8/10

About Michael Macy 49 Articles
Grew up in the American Midwest and bounced around a bit until settling in London. Wherever I've been, whatever I have done, has been to sound of Americana. It is a real privilege to be part of this site, discover new music and write about it.
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Alan Peatfield

A review that makes me want to explore this album .. and the sampler track is beguiling. So, many thanks for that Michael. However … a review that starts with the headline “this album is a gem” and is then given a 7 … a bit harsh methinks!