The Savage Hearts – Playing It Forward
String pedagogue and performer Annie Savage has teamed with a second fiddle player, Nancy Steinberger, songwriter and teacher Kevin Slick, multi-instrumentalist Kit Simon, and bassist Keith Summers to form The Savage Hearts, a Colorado based five piece Americana band primarily specializing in bluegrass and western swing, but possessing the artistic wherewithal to cast their net wide and capture a wide range of styles in their grasp. Their debut album Playing it Forward features some original compositions and standards that the band performs with a number of guests, including respected players in the bluegrass community and, most important, a number of music students under Savage’s instruction. This decision forms the conceptual basis behind the album – these chances afford Savage and her collaborators a chance to share the experience of recording and refining these performances with a younger generation just experiencing their first flush of love for the genre.
The first performance on Playing It Forward is a cover of Jim Croce’s “Age”. It’s a brief opener, but makes an immediate positive impression with the clarity of its production and the fluid instrumental push that the players give the song from the outset. This is music that really moves but never un-artfully. Bluegrass, perhaps much more so than many other styles of popular music, requires the players to really listen to one another in order to pull off the seamless blend of lines listeners normally associate with the genre. The album’s second song “Compadres of the Sierra Madre” has another Savage vocal that gives unlikely gravitas to this wistfully phrased adventure song. The Savage Hearts recall the past with slavishly over-working it and their stylishness is comfortable and compelling from first listen. “Heaven on Earth” is probably the most nominally commercial song on Playing It Forward and one that will, undoubtedly, be an audience pleaser. Kevin Slick’s songwriting comes up with a number of strong melodies on this album and his lyrics retain certain formulaic aspects of particular modes, like the love song in this instance, while still rendering a very personal experience in an accessible way.
“Faded Love” revisits the Texas swing classic from Bob Wills. It’s certainly the most traditional country music number on Playing It Forward and has chord changes that seem written in lockstep with each other. The band makes this one sound deceptively easy. “Ragtime Annie”, as its title implies, slightly jazzes up the standard bluegrass instrumental. “Child’s Song” incorporates children’s voices on backing vocals and another beautiful Kevin Slick melody is the perfect choice to close this album. The general positivity of its lyrical outlook is another memorable aspect – it evens out the effect of the more emotionally fraught songs that came earlier while still sounding quite consistent within the larger framework of the album. The band has done a terrific job of utilizing other musicians and realizing the creative goals they set out for themselves. Playing It Forward isn’t attempting to remake any wheels, but that isn’t the point behind this sort of music. The Savage Hearts are keepers of the flame and their work ensures that the desire to create this music will always burn within some.
9 out of 10 stars