Hector Ward & the Big Time
Smile Into Life (Blackfinger Records)
Reviewed by Alejandra Ramirez, Fri., July 5, 2019
Marked by an adventurous and unbridled local recording streak, Hector Ward & the Big Time boasts brass-boom bursts, hot riffs, and Godzilla-sized vocals. All those ingredients garnered the Austin big band acclaim and even legendary producer Bob Johnston (Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Simon & Garfunkel) overseeing 2016's Evolution: Live at the Saxon Pub. Yet for every titan throbs an Achilles heel, and bottling the boisterous energy of the Latin, funk, and blues genres in a studio remains a difficult feat on the group's third studio album. Following in the footsteps of sophomore album Sum of All (2011), Smile Into Life demonstrates a heady exposé of the eightpiece band's talent in serving up a genre smörgåsbord of no-war reggae ennui ("Simplify"), wah-wah and delay pedal psychedelia ("Fire Gypsy"), acoustic-jangled country ("Sidewalk's Ends"), and a funky, big brass blitz via "Live and Livin'." Whereas the 22-track Evolution pivots on improv, this follow-up can't capture that corporeal nuance. Strutted notes in the former turn to metronome sterility on the latter. That said, Smile Into Life beams an expert sampler of Hector Ward's life force funk-n-roll even if it can't capture the group's live lightning strike.