Let’s be honest here; the last thing anyone wants to hear from someone going through major life transitions is a cover of Baker Knight’s “Lonesome Town.” Still, Jay Smalls pulls it off well and makes it as intimate as Ricky Nelson’s immortal cut. That and a Gaslight Anthem are the only covers on his Alt-Country/Folk Rock infused debut, Melody Ranch Vol. 1. So, who is Jay Smalls? We have to go back 15 years to connect the dots leading up to this release with his old group, the Los Angeles based punk n’ roll machine, Red Cavalier. Smalls is riding high as the throat and guitars for Red Cavalier. Upon the group’s touring schedule gaining them traction in Southern California’s underground rock world, Loaded Bomb Records took notice. From there, a relationship between the two blossoms, Red Cavalier has a product, and Smalls becomes a searchable songwriter in the Discogs database.
In 2020, things are different minus Smalls still being on Discogs. Red Cavalier is no more BUT Loaded Bomb and Smalls partner again for the Melody Ranch Vol. 1 sessions. According to Smalls, a recent perfect storm of emotional, physical, and economic trauma impacting him is how this project got off the ground. Using that experience to channel his emotions resulted in an onslaught of writing to where he states there’s enough material for Melody Ranch Vol. 2, the best of the batch currently selected for this release. Off the cusp, this EP is solid with odes to songwriting styles that Springsteen’s Nebraska and Steve Earle display. This EP isn’t a linear, monotonic n’ highly cliched “just a guy and his guitar” collection of songs from start to end; dynamics are going on here provided by his support, which includes former Red Cavalier bassist, Albert Medina. The easy listening, heartland sound booms on the leadoff “Miracle Mile” and follows with the track “Wherefore Art Thou, Mama Cass?” Once those two conclude, the album goes into Alt-Country territory with a solid cover of Gaslight Anthem’s “She Loves You” as Smalls makes his best impression of Brian Fallon to go along. The most solid song here is “Blankie” in part to the combination of an upbeat yet-somber melody mixing well with Small’s vocal range.
Play this the next time you drive California SR-99. Melody Ranch Vol. 1 is now available on Loaded Bomb Record’s store and through all digital service providers.