The Savage Hearts are an Americana outfit hailing from the Colorado Front Range whose musical styles range Southwestern flavored swing, traditional country swing, a smattering of blues, and a heaping of bluegrass. The band is led by fiddle instructor and performer Annie Savage and she’s joined by a talented group of collaborators including songwriter/educator Kevin Slick, Kit Simon, Nancy Steinberger, and Keith Summer. While this is certainly a working and creatively ambitious unit, their album Playing It Forward has a multi-purposed intent. The band enlists the creative contributions of Savage’s students to appear alongside their own and also drafted a number of respected talents in the Americana genre to augment their efforts. The eleven songs on this album may cover a small gamut of styles, but they ultimately share the same characteristics
They show a certain amount of audaciousness with their reworking of the late Jim Croce classic “Age”. Savage’s vocals are more than capable of invoking the same sensitivity heard in the original, but they recast the song musically a solid bluegrass number that retains real melodic flourish. The first songwriting contribution from Kevin Slick, “Heaven on Earth”, relies a little on long-established clichés of the love song, but performers and lyric alike redeem any over-familiarity with their charismatic and coolly confident performance. They resurrect “Faded Love” from Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys to spectacular effect. There’s certainly a tremendous amount of respect in their treatment, but their playing carries even greater emotional heft than even the original and they invest the performance with credible theatricality that doesn’t drag the song into parody.
The blues enters the picture with “Workin’ on a Building”. This is religious themed material, but the mood remains mournful and far from celebratory. This Bill Monroe penned classic retains a lot of emotional punch thanks to the yearning and subtlety in its lyric, but it takes a great singer to bring it to full fruition and Savage does that wonderfully. The bluegrass standard “Don’t Cry Blue” gets a spirited rendition thanks in no small part to the virtues of Kit Simon’s vocal. The harmonies strengthening his performance are handled quite nicely. “High Road” has the feel of pure bluegrass balladry and the storytelling elements are direct and work cinematically. Savage turns in another fine vocal that’s full of emotion while the fiddle and guitar trade off melody lines with great finesse. “Child’s Song” ends Playing it Forward on a decidedly upbeat note set against elegantly turned bluegrass accompaniment.
Though these songs play like highly structured performances, Annie Savage’s belief in spontaneity’s value gives the eleven recordings in this collection a rare organic quality. The album’s larger aims of providing a forum where separate generations of Americana lovers can promote the music they admire and share its riches makes this release exceptional in a whole different way, but its overall musical substance will linger long after those particulars fade from memory. The Savage Hearts’ Playing It Forward is well tailored for its intended audience.
9 out of 10 stars