Arkansas Musician Aaron Smith Shares His Momentary Mixtape Track Notes
Northwest Arkansas-based singer-songwriter Aaron Smith is a man on a mission, but he’s no preacher. His songcraft has earned him recognition as a winner (2019) in the nationally renowned New Folk songwriting competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas. He also recently won the BMG Songwriter Showcase at the Power of Music Festival and the Visit Bentonville’s Songwriter competition. His first album The Way the World Turns was released in 2015. His next album The Legend of Sam Davis is anticipated in late 2020 and features songs inspired by Arkansas folk tales.
In anticipation of his upcoming Virtual Concert with the Momentary this Sunday, August 9, Aaron put a mixtape together of some of his favorite Arkansas sounds for all to enjoy. Check out Aaron Smith’s Momentary Mixtape track notes below, and listen along with the embedded Spotify playlist here! Also available on YouTube and Apple Music.
Momentary Mixtape: Aaron Smith’s Arkansas
“Putting this mixtape together for the Momentary has been a real pleasure. There’s so much great music happening here in Arkansas, and it’s being made by such wonderful people, many of whom I’ve been blessed to have built friendships with. If there’s a quality that makes music uniquely Arkansan to me, it’s someone pursuing a sound that is rooted in tradition, but pursuing it in their own homespun way. For some this has meant making their own instrument by hand. For some this has been building their own technique while trying to mimic Chet Atkins, Bob Wills, or Buddy Holly on the radio.
We haven’t been positioned at a cultural crossroads like New Orleans or New York, but our isolation has allowed a lot of our music to grow in some interesting, unexpected directions. The national music culture has a homogenizing effect that Arkansans may have enjoyed some shelter from. After some time in the classical and rock camps, I’ve come to love the hillbilly-tinged sounds that are springing up from our folk singers. They just feel like home.
I feel transported to the Greek Theater at the U of A, Dickson Street, The Basin Park Ballroom in Eureka Springs, and the backwoods churches that I grew up attending. These songs make me see the bluffs and waterways of the Buffalo River in its easily accessible majesty. They take me to the crumbling cemeteries on the side of the backroads and tell me the stories that wouldn’t fit on the tombstones. To me, they’re the soundtrack of this place. Sacred, a little wild…and home.”
Track Notes by Aaron Smith
“Beautiful White River Valley” by Jimmy Driftwood
Before going on stage to play my set in Kerrville’s 2019 New Folk competition, I glanced at the collage of photos of musicians who’d played there. There were so many great Texas legends, so many Texans in the audience…and there was Jimmy Driftwood, patron saint of Arkansas folk music, with his homemade Arkansas guitar, his weird glasses, and hat. He’s the perfect person to kick off this list of Arkansas musicians.
“Joy” by Bonnie Montgomery
Every time I hang out with an Austin-based songwriter, they ask me if I know Bonnie Montgomery, who hails from White County. I don’t, but it’s good to know that Arkansas has solid representation in the Austin music scene. This track reminds me of another great Arkansan, Johnny Cash.
“All the Beautiful Things” by Candy Lee
This exquisitely ornamented melody, singing about finches is so perfect. I love following Candy’s unique and thoughtful melodies through her songs.
“Highway Men” by Jamie Lou & the Hullabaloo
We really need more tracks, Jamie Lou. More like this. Please!!
“Rest in Peace, Jack Bland” by Still on the Hill
Still on the Hill has been preserving the folk tales of the Arkansas Ozarks in song since before 2008. I’m so proud to have them as friends and mentors. This song “Rest in Peace, Jack Bland” is such a beautiful tribute to Jack Bland’s enduring love.
“In the Dark” by National Park Radio
National Park Radio has been making people dance and spreading good vibes all over the country for years now. Stefan and Kerry’s gorgeous voices and irresistible melodies just pull you in. Make a point to catch them at their annual Steel Creek show in Newton County once the apocalypse is over.
“Ancient Lillies” by Smokey & the Mirror
I’m very much a words guy, but I usually lose track of them when Bernice sings. Her swooping notes, delicate ornamentation, and crystal-clear consonants are so danged pretty. I love the imagery in this song—we’ve all looked at old houses and wondered what stories they held. This one breaks through.
“Love and Happiness” by Al Green
Sometimes we need to be reminded that Al Green was from Arkansas. Sometimes we need to be reminded that he left. Sometimes we just need to be reminded about love and happiness.
“Laughing in the Face of the Blues” by Jack Williams
When Jack plays, sparks fly off the tortured frets. Awestruck audiences wonder how much that old guitar can take. If anyone else could do what he does with a guitar, people would be talking about what a transcendent singer and songwriter the man is. It’s such a privilege to know him and enjoy his friendship.
“Wish You Were Mine” by Honey Collective
I love the breeziness of this track by Honey Collective. I’m closing my eyes and imagining myself post-COVID, cocktail in hand, seeing these guys do this live.
“Boy Howdy, Hot Dog!” by Willi Carlisle
Willi is a great songwriter and a great showman. He’s pushing the limits of songwriting, making plays and opening doors for others to come in through events like the First Annual Queer and Trans Oldtime Music Gathering. I’m glad to know him and to see him traveling around the world doing Arkansas proud.
“Tulsa 1921” by Smokey & the Mirror
Living in Harrison, I face some living reminders of the scars of my town’s racist past (and sadly, also our present). I’ve also seen how those painful stories can get lost and become unremembered in a town that mostly wants everything to be okay somehow. I so appreciate Brian’s telling of a dark chapter from Tulsa’s past. If we’re going to build a better future, we’ve got to build it on the truth.
“Feel Like Going Home” by Charlie Rich
Charlie Rich’s story is a classic country music tale. He’s an alumnus, as I am, of the music department at the University of Arkansas. He was born to cotton farmers in Colt, Arkansas, and graduated from high school in Forrest City. He’s got a lot of syrupy tracks, and this is probably one of them, but I like it.
“What I Want Is a Proper Cup of Coffee” by Trout Fishing in America
I’ve listened to Trout Fishing since my college days. They’re heroes of mine and have brightened so many of my days. I finally got to hang out with them at a show in Dallas and they’re as friendly, welcoming, and kind as they can be.
“Lull in the Valley” by Dylan Earl
Dylan Earl has distilled some of the weirdest moments in country music, think Conway Twitty, Johnny Paycheck, and Charlie Rich—sideburns, chest hair, gold chains. Sometimes his music seems like a spot-on parody of that stuff and sometimes it’s just so danged good that you can’t figure out how he made you like it.
“The Huntin’s Over For Tonight” by Grandpa Jones
Grandpa Jones is an under-celebrated Arkansan. I remember watching him on Hee Haw. In the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting his son and playing one of his banjos for a bit. This song is a good reminder that the man could throw down a song.
“Cry to Me” by Brick Fields
Brick Fields’s “Blues Therapy” does more than deliver on their name. Go. You will find yourself shaking it with a bunch of strangers awash in a sea of divine bluesy love. I know that sounds weird. It is. (If you’re lucky, you might catch my little brother there, throwing down on trombone.)
“Works Must Be Done” by Rochelle Bradshaw and Hypnotion
The most blissful night in my time at the University of Arkansas was a reggae concert in the Greek Theater. The rhythm of this music is so inviting. I’m glad that Jamaica native Rochelle Bradshaw and Hypnotic are keeping these sounds on Dickson Street and beyond.
“I Need a Sign” by Simeon Basil
Simeon’s music makes me smile. Someone younger would probably hear different influences, but I’m hearing Bare Naked Ladies and a touch of They Might be Giants. I’m looking forward to hearing more from Simeon. He’s clearly got a lot to say and a lot of fresh sounds to share.
“I Don’t Wanna Do This Anymore” by Mark Currey
I couldn’t resist ending this playlist with this title. Mark is on the trail of the perfect American song, gunning for the deepest, hardest truths with the fewest possible words. It’s a noble pursuit. I’m in it with you, Mark.
Catch Aaron Smith’s Virtual Concert This Sunday!
Special thanks to Aaron Smith! Be sure to catch his free Virtual Concert this Sunday, August 9 from 3-4 p.m.
About the show, Aaron says, “We’re going to have ourselves a time exploring the winding highways, dirt roads and wooded hills of rural Arkansas in song and follow a few rabbit trails to Florida, the produce aisle, and the distant future. Ryan Gentry will be joining on percussion and harmony and will probably be permitted to tell a joke or two.”