Butte, Montana’s Jarod “Smokey” Yerkes, whose musical endeavor Smokestack and the Foothill Fury has been a recognizable part of the one-man band and roots revival scene for some time now, is preparing to release his latest full-length album “Lone Buffalo.” A refreshingly stripped-down and organic sound consisting of rhythmic banjo-pickin’ and subtle homemade percussion, six-string notework and folky vocals, is much of what one can expect from this new Smokestack and the Foothill Fury release. And what Jarod does, he does remarkably well, which is evidenced eleven times over on “Lone Buffalo,” in every well-constructed and adeptly executed song. And these songs are as raw as meat carved right off the bone, gristle and all, as rustic as the lands from which Jarod hails, as potent as basement-brewed hooch, and as gripping as old-time religion.
To put it another way, the first half of Smokestack and the Foothill Fury’s “Lone Buffalo” is where dark roots, working class country, and backwoods blues meet, hop a train together, pass a bottle of bottom-shelf whiskey back and forth in the half-darkness of the boxcar, and ride the rails all the way to a remote location at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. Surrounded by dense pine forest, moss-covered boulders and jagged rocky slopes, they camp out under the stars, eating hobo stew and stale bread, and talking about life in general. Then they lounge drunkenly around the dying embers of a small fire, playing their instruments and singing into the brisk night air. And the second half of the album is the lone trek westward, back home to Montana. Catching rides with kindly strangers in ill-running station wagons and battered pickup trucks, and then walking for miles and miles on the gravel shoulders of highways, through autumn fields with crops as brown and brittle as parchment paper, and through scattered clusters of wooded areas, until finally making it back to the people, places and things he holds near and dear.
“Lone Buffalo” owns a lo-fi quality, almost like that of old-fashioned field recordings. This is something from which it benefits more than a little, and makes it sound like a roots album ought to sound. Between that and the excellent songs on “Lone Buffalo” I have to say that Smokestack and the Foothill Fury is without doubt one of today’s more worthwhile roots artists.
Since beginning Smokestack and the Foothill Fury, Jarod has toured extensively, and has even performed at the Muddy Roots Festival. He isn’t a stranger to releasing albums, either. Over the years he has also released such memorable albums as “High Roads and Hard Shoulders,” “Best of the Bourbon Years,” “American’s Freedom Death March,” and Ain’t Gonna Pine.” And it looks as if he has a long road in front of him yet.