After a few albums that veered a bit more toward his rockabilly side, Gary Small’s latest effort, “Hostiles & Renegades,” takes us back to the sound of his debut, and with great results. That album, 2002’s “Wild Indians,” was a blend of vocal and instrumental; Latin and reggae; and strong songwriting.
That songwriting was good enough to earn Small his first of three NAMMYS, the Native American Music Association’s annual awards. In 2007 he was awarded Best Rock Recording for the Coyote Bros. album, “Crazy Woman Mountain,” with its surf guitar sound.
Although that album celebrated the retro vintage rock of the ’50s and ’60s, he is currently riding the crest of the wave for his 2011 Male Artist NAMMY. Not bad for a Northern Cheyenne kid who grew up in Kirby and Sheridan, Wyo.
The nine original tracks on his latest release were produced by Small in Sheridan at Crazy Moon Recording. This makes five albums with the Coyote Bros.; his debut was as the Gary Small Band.
Once again, Small is accompanied by the Coyote Bros., an all-native group of talented musicians who have backed him for his past four releases. Bassist Jobe Jennings sounds as energetic and creative as he is to watch play on stage. Drummer Jim Willey is as solid as a band could hope for. A variety of musical friends appear on a few songs as well.
Overall, the effect is a great representation of one of the region’s top live bands sounding as good as ever. Many bands have a challenge recreating the vibrancy of their live performances in the studio; Small and the Coyote Bros. do not have that problem. This album is one that you will want to listen to repeatedly for the quality of both the playing and the material.
One listen and there will be no doubt whether NAMMYS were flukes or not. This won’t be the first review to make comparisons between Small’s playing and that of Carlos Santana. That’s not to say that Small is an imitator; he brings his own artistry to whatever style of music he’s performing. It just so happens that some of the music he plays – both here and in live performance – has a Latin rhythm. (He even had former Santana drummer Graham Lear play on his entire debut!)
Some of it is also based in a reggae beat. But that doesn’t sound like Bob Marley; Small has a vocal style that’s distinct from either of those artists and leaves his own stamp on anything he plays.
But even though he’s been recognized for his songwriting, it’s really his guitar playing that shines the brightest. So it’s no wonder that this album includes a few instrumental pieces.
Don’t miss an opportunity to catch Gary Small and the Coyote Bros. next time they play in Billings. Check their schedule at www.Coyotebros.net. In the meantime, pick up a copy of this and any of his albums through his page at CDBaby.com. You won’t be disappointed.