Left Hand Smoke

Left Hand Smoke

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For a self-produced debut, Left Hand Smoke is a startlingly accomplished record. Driven by Ben Mish's bluesy vocals and the jazzy lead guitar work of his younger brother Will, the band's brand of rock has drawn comparisons to the Dave Matthews Band, although their sound is heavier and owes deeper debts to the classic styles of the Allman Brothers and Rolling Stones. They bring a contemporary edge to those traditions, but in the end what sets them apart is excellent musicianship. For his part, Will Mish is one of the best guitarists ever to emerge from the Northwest. A master of rhythm and Wes Montgomery-style blues, he drives a hard groove that keeps the music loose and exciting, while Ben, a classic shouter with a showman's energy, contributes virtuosic keyboard runs and boogie riffs. While the band's music is largely designed for the dancefloor, its sincerity is compelling, and a handful of inspired ballads are an indication that LHS's vision runs deeper than the average bar band. "Step Outside" explores young love with an anthemic chorus and a soulful touch, while "Slide Away" is a runaway rocker with some classic, powerful slide guitar work. "Blue Eyes Shinin'" was featured on an episode of ER, which helped raise the group's profile considerably. The band is still in an embryonic state here (they had no fixed drummer at the time, and bassist Chris Jensen would soon leave), but, except for a few weak moments, their music doesn't suffer one stitch.

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