CD Review - oakes_and_smith__hi_res_photo (2) tonedTyringham-based folk-art duo Oakes and Smith, just shy of six months out from releasing a four-song EP, “Evergreen,” the musical and lifelong partners have released a five-song follow-up called, “Between the Earth and the Sky” (Feb. 2).

Whereas a reviewer for EssentiallyPop.com described “Evergreen,” as an album “filled with music and lyrics that take the listener on a journey conjuring up visions of leafy glades and country walks,” the newest EP is filled with the kind of music and lyrics that leaves the road and ushers listeners up to a hopeful, almost heavenly place.

Much as the current season is transitioning from the heaviness of winter to the lightness of spring, “Between the Earth and the Sky” presents lyrical pathways from dark, lonesome and weighty emotions to a hopeful, harmonious and happy state, with song titles like, “So Beautiful,” “Never Let the Light Die,” and “Closer to Home.”

From a technical standpoint, this may be one of cleanest, purest-sounding Oakes and Smith record yet. Returning to work with the duo is Oz Fritz, the Grammy Award-winning engineer who mixed the EP as well as their 2013 debut LP “First Flight.” Dale and Bernie Becker mastered the record.

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Robert Oakes and singer-songwriter Katherine Oakes (née Smith) began working on the EP back in 2012, teaming up with co-producer, guitarist and vocalist Jemal Wade Hines. They recorded piano and vocal tracks in the historic barn of Tyringham’s Ashintully Gardens, a lush and beautiful place in its own right, where the orchestral composer John Stewart McLennan once worked.
Each track starts with Katherine’s vocals, backed by piano and strings, then soon layered with harmonies created by either Robert or contributing vocalist Moksha Sommer. Instrumentals are rounded out by bassist Dan Walters, bamboo flutist George Tortorelli, drummer Chuck Mauk, and cellist Melissa Hyman, all of whom are members of or frequent contributors to the Sufi neo-folk world-rock ensemble HuDost. The collaboration adds a hint of kirtan orchestration, creating an ethereal, almost spiritual ambiance to the work. So it’s no wonder why the track “Never Let the Light Die” has come into heavy rotation on Soul Traveller radio.

The last track of the album, “Closer to Home” is quite soundtrack-worthy, featuring vocalist Jon Anderson of the British progressive rock band Yes. Both its structure and lyrics seem to carry the essence of the Oakes and Smith story of coming into their own:

“I was wild and restless, the horizon was my desire
“I’d never trade my freedom for some comfort by the fire
“Now I know no matter where I turned to as I roamed
“Everywhere I wandered, every road was leading home.”

“Between the Earth and the Sky” is available as a digital download from iTunes, Amazon, Bandcamp and other online stores, and is currently available in CD form at Crystal Essence in Great Barrington and Wood Bros. in Pittsfield. Learn more at oakesandsmith.net.