The Sound Cafe
Alternative Folk Singer-Songwriter Bet Smith Releases 'Downer'
Canadian alternative folk singer-songwriter and environmental advocate, Bet Smith released her third Album, Downer, on February 2nd 2021. Co-produced in Gravenhurst, Ontario by Smith and her partner, Rob Currie, Downer is a spacious, introspective alt-folk album.
While the songs on Downer are presented with the tone and intimacy of love songs, the album asks us to question our values and politics – our relationship with the planet and its people. Smith leans into topics like religion, social and economic injustice and climate change, at times presenting us with grave scenarios from a not-too-distant future.
In contrast to past releases that were sprinkled with guest appearances, Smith and Currie used 2020’s forced solitude to create a stripped-back, story-focused album. The folk song is at the centre of each track, with instrumental tracks layered selectively by both Currie and Smith. Bandmate/brother, Andrew Currie adds rhythm tracks to three of the songs as well, helping to form sonic peaks and valleys throughout an album that has been called both sombre and hauntingly beautiful.
Bet Smith weaves environmental and socio-political philosophy into rich, reflective compositions. With a voice that is gentle and familiar, Smith offers elegant melodies locked to lyrics that are paced and precise. Smith’s reverence for nature is ever-present in her writing. She attributes this to time spent homesteading on a small island in British Columbia.
Far-removed from everyday conveniences like running water and electricity, Smith learned to find comfort in a give-and-take relationship with the land. Growing food, cooking over a fire, pulling water from the ground, waking up to see her breath hanging in the air on cold winter mornings; she learned to settle in with nature’s rhythms and embrace her dependence on the earth. There on the west coast, surrounded by a community deeply concerned for, and connected to nature, fear and anxiety for the future of the planet worked its way into Smith’s writing, along with earnest devotion to the natural world.
Talking about the album Bet says "Downer is a cumulation of anxieties, imaginings and big feelings. I find myself making major life decisions based on the bleak future I see for humans and the more innocent animals living on this planet. And I’m procrastinating those decisions until I know for sure... will governments act? Will societal values change? Will the demonstrations and social action make any difference at all? Is this futile? Are we doomed? I don’t see meaningful change happening fast enough, and I am frozen in time. And I’m kind of pissed off. Most of this album was recorded in 2020, during Covid times. A short-term layoff from my day job and the sudden falling-off of social and volunteer obligations left space for songwriting and for getting back to the unfinished, Downer. The album is produced by myself and my partner, Rob Currie, who also engineered and mixed the record. A multi-instrumentalist, Rob adds electric guitar and bass to a few songs. His brother, Andrew Currie plays drums on two tracks and bass on another. As usual, I provide vocals and acoustic guitar but the project also gave me the opportunity to add keys and instruments I am less familiar with: bass for I Would Rather Run and some sparse kit percussion on All of the Above."
Bet continues "Rob and I love to get a little bit experimental in the studio. Rob loves to create interesting effects with vintage equipment. The title track, Downer, makes use of a Kay guitar built in the 1940s that barely stayed in tune and that I found nearly impossible to play. We thought it added interest to a folk song that takes place in the early years of a dystopian future. (2023?)
And finally Bet adds "Whenever possible, and in many different ways, I try to make a point of talking about climate change. We still don’t talk about it enough to make up for all the years spent with our heads in the sand. I attend demonstrations, volunteer with climate action organizations, write and talk publicly about soil carbon sequestration, and sing about it too, when there’s time left for that. Not many people are record-shopping for music about climate change, I guess. But this is what I offer, to those who fret and wish for empathy. Or maybe these are just love songs."
During her time out west, Smith ventured out for short tours and festival appearances within British Columbia. Then in 2014, she returned home to Ontario and connected with Rob and Andrew Currie at their vintage music store and studio in Gravenhurst, Ontario. Smith and the Currie brothers teamed up to record what would eventually become two very different LPs: Tightropes & Loose Ends, a brooding experimental indie-roots record, and Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, a mostly-upbeat alt/trad-country album. Peppered with guest appearances by some of Canada’s most beloved musicians, as well as friends and family, both albums earned considerable attention and acclaim within Canada, the United
States and Europe.
Bet Smith & The Currie Brothers, later joined on-stage and in-studio by friend and vocalist Sarah Girdwood, were heartily embraced by Muskoka’s brew-pub culture. The band made the LCBO’s craft-brew playlist and became cherished regulars at their hometown Sawdust City Saloon & Brewery. The group appeared on the first episode of Netflix’s Restaurants on the Edge as well as at Orillia’s Roots North Music Festival. They opened the main stage for Harrow Fair and Jim Cuddy at Muskoka Music Festival in 2017, closed the festival with a Sawdust City Saloon performance in 2018 and opened the weekend event in 2019.