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Music Review: William Hart Strecker – Smoke And Clouds

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Although not a huge name in today's music world, singer-guitarist William Hart Strecker has spent several decades establishing himself as a solid presence in a number of different genres, including blues, jazz, and even country-rock. Along the way he had to survive a horrible accident and find a way to recover physically and rebuild his career. His second album as a soloist, Smoke And Clouds, would seem to prove that he has done so.

Strecker's background includes service with a wide variety of performers — everyone from jazz stars Dizzy Gillespie and Jaco Pastorius to pop icons Madonna and Cher. At one time or another he's also been part of such groups as Asleep At The Wheel, Pure Prairie League, and others.

But his career almost ended about ten years ago, when he left the road and collided with a tree. He was in a coma for weeks, and even after awakening was still so badly injured that he was unable to walk. A long period of rehabilitation followed, but Strecker began gradually working his way back into music — first just composing, but eventually performing again.

A while back Strecker formed a songwriting partnership with Chris Eminizer, a talented multi-instrumentalist and veteran performer in his own right. The duo – accompanied by producer/bassist Ken Rich and a number of other veteran sidemen – have filled this album with some examples of their composing talents.

Strecker pretty much sticks to acoustic guitar and handles all the lead vocals, and he's a confident and skilled singer who has been compared to Neil Young, Tom Petty, and Roger McGuinn, but this album proved to be a little tough for me to nail down. The first time through, I found the individual tracks pleasant enough but they seemed repetitive and derivative. However, I realized that I might have paid too much attention to the instrumental side of things, so I replayed the album and the second time around I focused a little closer on the lyrics.

A funny thing happened. Paying more attention to the words not only provided some separation among the songs for me, but it also made me more appreciative of the instrumental side too. Overall, I came away with a higher level of admiration for the album as a whole, and also a few individual favorites among the tracks.

For example, the very appealing title tune evokes a folk mood that's underscored by Eminizer's harmonica — I liked it a lot. As I did "California Dreaming" (which is also listed as "Dreaming California") and "Things Don't Always Turn Out Like You Plan," both of which give us a taste of Strecker's bluesy side.

For something a little different, I'd recommend the soft and mournful ballad "Anna Belle," or the country-flavored, faster-paced tune ironically named "Slow Down, Darlin'." It was probably my favorite track on the album. 

Worth a listen. Track listing and clips available at artist's website.

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