Smooth Kentucky: Funky Undertones


Straddling a land that has Bill Monroe and Townes Van Zandt on one side and Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan on the other, Smooth Kentucky’s sound is a trip through the spirit of American music.  They have a bluegrass soul, but play with a rock ‘n’ roll heart.

Guitarist/ singer Ed Hough is that soul and heart.  As guitarist Cris Jacobs says about his longtime musical partner, “He doesn’t come from an extensive music theory background, so his writing is simple, soulful, and true to what he feels.  His sound is distinctly his, because he’s not trying to sound like anyone else…he doesn’t have to.”  Hough simply says, “Well its bluegrass, but we got some kind of funky Americana undertones."

Smooth Kentucky formed in 2003 when a friend asked Jacobs, who was starting his other band The Bridge around the same time, if he could put together a bluegrass band for the Baltimore Brewing Company’s Friday night bluegrass happy-hour.  Jacobs reached out to his longtime musical ally, Hough. The two then recruited mandolinist B.J Lazarus to help round out the line-up.  At an early gig upright-bassist Dave Freeman left his card on the table and told Hough to call him.  He did, and Smooth Kentucky as a four-piece was born.  They played as a four-piece for two years, during which time they released their self-titled debut album, which is a smart combination of traditional bluegrass and a more adventurous spirit that Hough says he discovered from attending, “many, many Grateful Dead shows.”

Shortly after the album's release they decided they wanted to expand their line-up by adding a fiddle player.  Fiddle prodigy Patrick McAvinue happened to hear the band on a local radio show.  An audition was quickly arranged, but almost ended as fast as it started.

“He walked in and was baby-faced; he was in the 10th grade.  We were hesitant,” recalls Hough.  McAvinue quickly eased Hough’s worries, “All I did was hear him tune up, and I was done.  Cris and I looked at each and were like ‘oh my god’.”

Just as the band settled into its new life as a five piece, Jacobs had to scale back his time with the band as The Bridge began to take on a larger national profile and was keeping him on the road away from Smooth Kentucky for long stretches.  Hough arrived at a simple solution to this problem.  He recruited Dave Giegerich (dobro) and Jordan Tice (guitar) to help fill the holes while Jacobs was away.  This unusual arrangement of having three different guitarists rotating through allowed the band to be able to create a wholly unique personality.  While at its core Smooth Kentucky is built upon the steady, tasty rhythms of Hough, Freeman, and Lazarus, each show is a new adventure as they play with their ever-revolving cast of guitarists, which allows each night to provide a different interpretation of their arsenal.

Their new album, A Few More Miles, released in June of this year, is a testament to that ever evolving line-up and the band’s deep widely-branched roots. It is this simple, but constantly changing muse that Hough follows.

“The main goal for me is to provide the listener with something that’s not so expected, but still remaining true to our overall sound," Hough states. "It is always the element of surprise that keeps me coming back for more.  Hopefully with this new release people will be surprised and want more as well.”

A Few More Miles is a journey through the joys of rural American music; it explores the backwoods and the front porch, even taking a turn to visit a finger-pickin’ good version of Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me,” all the while soothing your soul with the sounds of a tall glass of whiskey in hand and the sun shining on your face.

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