Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways is the sixth release from the White Buffalo -- aka songwriter Jake Smith. Where previous recordings have delved into various aspects of history through the 19th and early 20th century, the subject matter in this 12-song cycle is contemporary. It centers on the story of Joe and Jolene, two outsiders thrust together by chance -- if there is such a thing. Through acoustically driven Americana and raging roots rockers, a narrative emerges with Joe as the catalyst. The tunes detail his experiences as an adult before, during, and after his military service in Iraq all the way to his eventual denouement. Jolene freely chooses her part in his sojourn. Smith is a hell of a storyteller; he's a populist who doesn't require a large platform to create deeply etched archetypal characters. He's far closer to Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle than he is to Bruce Springsteen. Smith simply yet thoroughly inhabits Joe and other characters through this riveting song cycle. "Joey White" -- used in F/X's Sons of Anarchy -- is the anchor cut; it reveals the difference between idea and experience, detailing the horrific interior war that takes place after returning from Iraq inside Joe, which is also explored in "Set My Body Free" and "Redemption #2." In the process, life, love, and death come together in an inseparable dance that crosses generational boundaries -- check "Joe and Jolene" and "Don't You Want It" and see if you either recognize people in these songs or have been them. It critiques the notion of class in America without engaging in politics -- let's just say that few offspring of the wealthy and powerful would ever identify with Smith's characters' root circumstances. Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways will resonate with veterans, but it's bigger than that: it offers an unflinching, honest gateway toward understanding what our brothers and sisters might endure and face in society after returning from service. Smith has empathic help from co-producers Bruce Witkin and Ryan Dorn; they take great care to let the drama in this song cycle to speak for itself. Drummer Matt Lynott and bassist Tommy Andrews are constants, aided by a host of guest players who variously adorn Smith's songs with taste and grit. Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways is an album of uncommon heart, candor, and empathy. Smith succeeds in delivering something few artists would attempt, let alone pull off.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek