It’s not easy for a musician to come up with something original. After all, the number of musical notes is limited. But even if you’re using all the notes that every other musician has ever used, it’s possible to put a different spin on things. Brian Smalley is an artist from Florida who has developed his style into what he calls an acoustic novel. The idea is to tell a singular story (with a variety of arcs) over the course of the album.
His latest novel Chosen tells a story from Belle Glade, Florida. It is a broad-ranging story that is not easy to summarize, but captivating nonetheless.
The story involves Haitians working in the Florida sugar cane fields, a forbidden affair, and a woman who is known as the “keeper of the snakebones.” It also seems to cover voodoo and some reference to a girl who was killed in the cane fields in the 1800s.
About halfway through the album, you learn that Caleb is abducted and thrown into the trunk of a car. He is taken to his great grandfather’s ancestral home and killed by his father apparently because, as the quote from the Bible in the previous song says, it is an “abomination for a man to lie with another man.”
He tells the story over melodies influenced by bluegrass, blues, and folk and played by some very talented musicians. The stripped-down melodies and the stories told in these songs make for a theatrical experience, which is not something you get very often from just an audio recording.
You have to give Smalley credit for trying something new. This is definitely not the standard verse-chorus-verse setup. You really have to pay attention to the tracks to know what’s going on, which is not a small thing to ask when everyone has such a short attention span. The thing that makes this a little tricky is that you don’t really get to know any of the characters or the settings in this album. So while you hear all the character names and stories, you may not know how they relate to each other.
Chosen was released earlier this year and is available everywhere now. Order your copy here.
Album credits (character names are in parentheses)
Brian Smalley (Bobby Anchor, Tres Cubano) – guitar, baritone guitar
Grant Peeples (Jabe Brown)
Tony Macaluso – bass
Lis Williamson (McKenna Brown) – banjo
Christian Ward – fiddle
Marianne Lerbs (Pharah Monfiston)
Lon Williamson – bass, fiddle
Jonathan Hodge – fiddle
Sam Pacetti (Caleb Greer)