Hellfire & Bone
The Milkwood Dreamers' debut album, Hellfire and Bone, comprises eleven songs featuring duets and heart-swelling harmonies by husband and wife duo Mel and Marti Smith. It includes a cover of the 1980s hit by Bruce Springsteen, "I'm on Fire," with haunting pedal steel swells by Calgary's Charlie Haze. The album nods to bluegrass in up-tempo fiddle tune "Briar Hill," then quiets down for old country ballads like "When the Money's Gone" and "Stars On My Pillow". Clawhammer player Ivan Rosenberg from Portland, Oregon, adds his banjo licks to the album including title track "Hellfire and Bone," named for the hard times between life's happy moments. The musicians stretch their legs on "Devil Train", a quick little number with flatpicking guitar, dobro and banjo. The band name, Milkwood Dreamers, was inspired by the 1954 radiodrama by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood and also by the African Milkwood tree, a gnarled, sprawling tree with a crooked trunk. Marti Smith left Palgrave, a little town north of Toronto, with a bluegrass CD in her hand and followed a circuitous route through New Orleans, Texas, California and then Vancouver for several years. Then she followed her heart to Alberta and found herself in a bar called the Last Chance Saloon. There, she cut her teeth on guitar and won praise for her iridescent, pearly tones that speak of parched but beautiful landscapes. She sang in gospel/folk trio the Fallen Angel Band, and more recently, all-girl quartet Magnolia Buckskin who released a self-titled CD in 2009. Mel Smith grew up with parents who rambled all over the Canadian West, usually in a tent trailer. His adventures include run-ins with bears, ducking stray bullets, and living in haunted houses in the Yukon. Mel's songwriting roots draw a line through Paul Simon, Gordon Lightfoot and Jackson Brown. He's made a few of his own records and has played at Canadian festivals and folk clubs with a number of great musicians including Dave McCann and The Fates. He's also toured the west coast and played for more than a decade with Calgary, Alberta talent, Jenny Allen.