Though Smoke Season (Gabrielle Wortman and Jason Rosen) formed officially just over a year and a half ago, they have a poise and scope that reflects the maturity of a seasoned group. Perhaps it is for this reason that the pair have garnered acclaim from fans and critics alike following the release of their debut EP Signals last year.
To say that Smoke Season is a mash-up of sorts is a bit of an understatement. Pop, rock, electronic, Americana, and folk elements collide in an inspired way. Things kick off with “Badlands”, which reminded me at times of Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Civil Wars, and a handful of other artists.
Still, despite the influences that are at work in the music of Smoke Season, there is a flavor that is distinctly theirs. “Badlands” is a track with a lot of weight, and Wortman and Rosen push a lot of elements into this five minute journey. At the heart of things, though, is the American Southwest.
The pair switches gears with “Simmer Down”, which feels more inspired by the forward movement than a reflection of the Americana past. Kind of Celtic, with a dose of the 80s, and a hint of Bjork maybe? Smoke Season is certainly advocating for the power of the melting pot with tunes like this.
“Opaque” follows in a similar vein. 80s sounds coupled with modern day production and elements make this one another chronologically diverse piece. Wortman and Rosen impart a bit more focus into this one, however, making it a more emotionally-driven track than the meandering “Simmer Down”. Not without its surprises and twists, though.
Things close with the hidden track “Fools Gold”, easily the most experimental and cinematic of these selections. A warm fuzz echoes throughout, but there is a cool breeze blowing. Though the Southwest is alive and well in much of Smoke Season’s music, this one feels like the desert. Simultaneously hot and cold. A nice trek into the atmospheric.
In all, the winner here for me is “Badlands”. Hands down. Of the three genre cocktails offered up by Wortman and Rosen, this is the most balanced and rewarding. Not to say that there aren’t some really rewarding points in “Simmer Down” and “Opaque”, but “Badlands” is on another level. Powerful and true to the spirit of what makes folk music what it is, I’d love to hear more from these two like this.
EPs are for experimenting, for testing the waters, and for prefacing what’s to come, and with Hot Coals Cold Souls, Smoke Season has done just that, leaving us with four tracks that give us a glimpse into the forward-thinking minds of Wortman and Rosen.