Smokin’ Novas consists of Andrew Hyra, Brian Bristow and Don McCollister, all veterans of the Atlanta music scene. Prior to forming Smokin’ Novas, Hyra, with Kristian Bush of Sugarland, comprised Atlantic Records recording artist Billy Pilgrim. The duo enjoyed both national and international acclaim and received a four star review in Rolling Stone for their debut album. Bristow was a founding member of regional favorites The Tastemakers and most recently Athens, GA based The Highlanders, which released an all-star laden album in 2010. McCollister is a two-time Grammy® winning producer/engineer who has worked with a roster of artists including Third Day, Sister Hazel and Shawn Mullins to name a few.
The self titled debut album, Smokin’ Novas, opens with the infectious track Sunrise, highlighting an all-star backing band including legendary Athens, GA producer/musician John Keane and GA State Fiddle champion Andy Carlson. Hyra sings “such a joyous sound” and it’s impossible not to let them take you on their musical journey. Next up is Crooked Smile that effortlessly takes the listener down a musical path that brings in elements of their influences, yet always leave you feeling you’re in the present.
Consisting of 10 tracks and clocking in just under 40 minutes, the album is in the mold of the classic records from the 70s with not a filler track in sight.
One of the early standouts is The Heights, which appears destined to be the first single released. Here is where the rhythm section of McCollister on bass, Gerry Hansen on drums and Marty Kearns on accordion propel the band to arena-like stature. The meshing of Hyra’s mandolin and Bristow’s resonator guitar lay the groundwork for Hyra’s voice, having been described as “a force of nature”. From there the Novas move along with some of the most beautiful and well thought out arrangements in Wildflower Honey, which could easily be heard coming out of Nashville and Nightdriving that screams to be heard cruising in a convertible going down a back road.
Others have described them as “smooth Americana-Bakersfield sound with pop sensibilities” and you can see why at this point in the record. As the band smokes the instrumental Monteverde Ride, you can just imagine the musical satisfaction of such a tight knit group and can almost see the expression on their faces. The band truly shines here and is highlighted by the guitar/pedal steel/fiddle interplay between Bristow, Keane and Carlson.
And then Don’t Count Me Out arrives…
“Set this heart that’s pounding free” For all of you that are not yet familiar with the Smokin’ Novas well then “Wake up…we’re going rise up!” sings Hyra. And you know what, I believe him.
The final three cuts of the album are the perfect trio to complete the ride. Up On The Mountain offers a spot not yet explored and feels oh so good. New Morning Light provides the listener the opportunity to sing along with something new yet familiar and Rosemarie is the send off that sets you back down nice and easy while painting a picturesque landscape of sounds.
This is the album I’ve been wanting without knowing I even wanted it. Which makes it all the more sweet when it arrives.
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