a literary review
The high whine of the fiddle crashes down onto the strummed guitar and clucking banjo and is kept chugging forward by the thump of the upright bass. The ten songs of Break Your Heart by Utah collective The Snarlin’ Yarns romp and rollick through varying shades of Americana. With the help of engineer and producer Bronson Tew, the Snarlin’ Yarns cut all ten songs live at Dial Back Sound, a studio in Water Valley, Mississippi owned by Matt Patton of Drive-By Truckers/The Dexateens. Tracks like “If I Go,” “Tide So Low,” and “Rest Stop” are reminiscent of country-rock and bluegrass legends Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and The Ozark Mountain Daredevils while songs “Wyoming State of Mind,” “Star Valley Skies,” “Pharmacy Girl,” & “Don’t Go Fishing” call to mind acts like Fred Eaglesmith, The Hackensaw Boys, and Truckstop Honeymoon while remaining totally original. “Butcher Girl” and “Applesauce” have a Whiskeytown feel while “DWI” rambles and growls like a Tom Waits’ B-Side.
Though there are three songwriters & a poet laureate in the band, Break Your Heart melds all four voices to shape one singular sound, simultaneously old-timey and fresh, broke-in like your favorite pair of blue jeans. The sound is grassy and moving. Four voices make for a diversity of sound while never sounding overextended or forced. Ogden, Utah’s Poet Laureate Abraham Smith’s spoken word portions, which are featured on nine of the album’s ten songs, add an additional dimension to the songs, which do not feel stretched to incorporate Smith’s words. Instead, his half-sung poetry adds an additional layer to the tunes like a tinkling mandolin’s refrain.
Mara Brown, fiddler and vocalist, wrote “If I Go,” “Don’t Go Fishing,” and “Tide So Low.” Her vocal delivery is reminiscent of Caitlin Cary and Jay Farrar, never strained or unnatural. There’s a timeless feel to her songs, as if they were well-worn traditionals not live takes of originals on a debut record. Her fiddle playing is sweet and sad, a tealight candle flickering in the midnight wind.
Guitarist William Pollett wrote “Rest Stop,” “Wyoming State of Mind,” and “Star Valley Skies.” His raspy voice with its full-throated choruses and belted lines, at times, reminds me of Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. His choruses are earworms. One listen to “Rest Stop” and you’ll be singing along.
“Pharmacy Girl,” “Applesauce,” and “Butcher Girl” were written by guitarist and banjo picker Jason Barrett-Fox. His vocal delivery is a downtrodden lament similar to Brown Bird’s Dave Lamb, Slaid Cleaves, and Buddy Miller. His banjo is melodic and smooth.
Abraham Smith penned “DWI,” which rocks like Adam Carroll’s “Black Flag Blues,” and is featured on every song on the record with the exception of “Applesauce.” His voice flutters and pokes like moths in a lamp shade. His words pick up each of the songs’ gists and reveals a bit more with each turn of phrase, each quivery line, while never sounding out of place in the mix.
There’s a levity to Break Your Heart despite some darkness. The record stomps and sways, spits and cries. The Snarlin’ Yarns laugh and dance through the tears. With these ten songs, they show that they can “Break Your Heart,” with this auspicious first record.
Readers can purchase The Snarlin’ Yarns’ new record here: https://ffm.to/tsybyha
Snarlin’ Yarns are a bluegrass and improv poetry quartet from Ogden, Utah featuring Mara Brown (fiddle), Ogden, Utah’s poet laureate Abraham Smith (spoken word), William Pollett
(guitar), and Jason Barrett-Fox (all things strings). In the summer of 2019, The Snarlin’ Yarns traveled to Water Valley, Mississippi’s Dial Back Sound to work with engineer and producer
Bronson Tew (Jimbo Mathus, Jerry Joseph, Seratones). They ended up with the live performances that make up ‘Break Your Heart.’ It was a first trial and Abe says it frayed them a bit. Mississippi is a hell of a haul from Utah after all. By the time the tired wore off back home, it dawned on the Yarns what the voyage meant.