Jan Smith's music is as direct and unadorned as her portrait on this CD's cover. 29 Dances showcases Jan Smith's special ability to create music that remains true to traditional Southern roots. Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, and now residing in Charlottesville, Virginia, Jan Smith's music displays the strong influence of Appalachian folk ballads as well as more contemporary folk and bluegrass.
All twelve songs on 29 Dances are Smith originals. Their tone and subject matter range from plaintive country ballads to upbeat bluegrassy romps. What unites them all is an overriding reverence for older musical forms and thorough integration of these roots and sources into her own original material. According to her biography, Jan Smith first learned to play guitar on her father's Gibson J-160 and started writing songs at age 18. Her compositions go down as smoothly as new musical wine in old bottles.
Joined by her husband and principal musical collaborator Jeff Vogelgesang on mandolin and harmony vocals, Smith assembled a fine group of players for 29 Dances. Johnny Hiland plays guitar, Pat McInerney handles percussion, Byron House plays bass, Randy Kohrs resonator guitar, David Talbot banjo, Robert Bowlin fiddle, and Patty Mitchell sings harmony vocals. The sound on 29 Dances may not bowl anyone over with special studio effects, but Grammy-winning producer and engineer Bill VornDick knows how to properly record acoustic instruments. On 29 Dances vocals are clear and warm and each instrument retains its own unique harmonic voice.
As refreshing as a springtime dip into a mountain stream, 29 Dances makes me want to hear more of Jan Smith, both live and on future records. Chalk up another one for the home team.