The Glorious Ache opens with a synth and guitar-feedback intro leading into two strong full-ahead rock pieces sung with great harmonies and excellent guitar work. The third tune, Be Careful, slows down considerably with acoustic guitar and more forefront bass with some fine accompanying electric guitar, though it has a darker, almost ominous, texture and cadence.
This prompted me to anticipate a possible progrock journey. Instead, Jeremy Stills and Frank Smith, along with Jonathan Edwards, offer up a more heavier, perhaps alternative, folk-rock sound with various elements from other rock genres interwoven.
Not that I’m disappointed. Quite the opposite. This third studio album by Sills & Smith is my introduction to them, having not had the chance to listen to their previous releases. What initially struck me was their harmonies, even on the heavier tunes, and the fitting rhythm/lead electric guitar on almost every song, as well as the aforementioned infused elements.
Advice Best Taken brings in a more folk-rock mood, though not as rocking out as the initial two, then into Parachute Love, which serves up a more upbeat up-tempo rock with some fine electric guitar lead-work. Amanda, a touching and soft ballad, slows the pace down and enters a slower, more electric folk-rock tone with acoustic guitar more prominent. This remains relatively constant through the balance of the album with the exceptions of Tornado Alley, Living On a Island, and Freezing In Here leaning more to the rock side of the equation.
There is experimentation here, such as on Hold Tight and In Memory, with the inclusion of some synth and moving into a ‘prog-rock’ area, stretching the boundaries of folkrock into other territory. The songwriting is the star here though, as the songs themselves on The Glorious Ache would stand on their own with only acoustic guitar accompaniment.
The poetics of Frank’s lyrics are of an open structure, creating tight expressive writing where almost every word is necessary to carry the images. Many of the lyrics invoke vignettes or collages illustrating subjects ranging from loss and grief (In Memory), and one’s faith in the face of these (A Church In The Country), fear and loss (Tornado Alley), and fear and consequences of traversing outside of any arbitrary boundaries (Be Careful)…
You’re not a dreamer
Yet, all is not restrained despair or loss, for Jeremy and Frank do sing of the enduring love of one’s special lady-love in the short sweet Fill My Cup, as well as the unbound joy of ‘falling in Love’ in Parachute Love…
It’s such a rush
What I appreciate most is Frank and Jeremy’s harmonies. They are a pleasure, meshing well with the music even on heavier, more rocking tunes. There is a flow to The Glorious Ache with a coherence in the progression of the songs even though there is a spectrum of inclusion of styles and a possibility that the two or three opening pieces seem not to fit initially with the rest of the album.
Yet, taken as a whole, and after seriously listening over the last week, The Glorious Ache reveals the scope of stylistic elements and more unconventional song structure Jeremy, Frank and Jonathan have fused into their song-crafting, as well as the depth of thought and emotion ingrained in Frank Smith’s lyrics. What we have here is an earnest melodic collection worthy of long-term listening and distinctive musical endurance.