The Werks Mr. Smalls Sessions
by Elise Olmstead
Jam band giants and all around “nice guys,” The Werks, who also sometimes go by “The Ohio All-Stars” recently released a much-anticipated new album called “Mr. Smalls Sessions,” consisting of previously unreleased music that many of us fans have come to know and love along our journeys to their live shows.
Each Fall and Spring we hop on the bus and go on Werks tour, and this past Spring we got to visit Mr. Smalls Theatre for the first time. The unique venue is a remodeled church tucked away in downtown Millvale, PA, and brings music fans from far and wide. The band recorded their new album inside these intimate walls, and the album feels just as private and cozy as the venue.
The album starts with “Better Than Before,” a song where Rob Chafin’s vocals really sound better than ever before. He sounds incredibly comfortable with his vocal talent, and the inspiring lyrics are delivered flawlessly without strain. Beginning with the unmistakable stroke of Chris Houser’s guitar (with a southern rawness that reminds me of “Going South”), and the perfectly timed tinkle of the keyboard, we recognize immediately that The Werks are about to whisk us away.
The funky “Fall” let’s Dino’s bass-picking skills shine, as well as some pounding of organ style keys by Dan Shaw. The chorus, however, is what makes me feel like spinning in circles, as Chris Houser’s bouncing guitar riff plays over the lyrics “When I see you faallll…” The third track is the smoky, sexy, “Music” that has more of a slow, soulful feel. A long keyboard solo enhances the feeling that you are dim-lit lounge snapping your fingers. They never let us forget that they are a jam band first and foremost though, and make sure to include lots of fanciful guitar work. “Looking for the Light” begins with space-y noises and simple harmonies, then breaks down into a heavy bass line that you can’t help but bend your knees and “get down” to.
It is difficult for me to describe the next song on the album without being incredibly biased, but I believe that “Carry Me Back Home” touches the heart of whoever opens their ears to listen. The slower tempo song sings of chasing your dreams, living on the road, and missing home…a truly personal song for the members of the band. This personal emotion carries throughout the song and is heard with every stroke of the guitar, beat of the drum, and tremble in the voice. It is one of the reasons that The Werks have amassed such a loyal fan base, because they are genuine and sincere in all actions, and truly relatable on an individual level.
After drying my eyes from the last track, Chris Houser brings us back to life with a very catchy guitar riff backed by some jubilant keyboard work by Dan. The song “Moetry in Potion” certainly puts some shimmy in your shoulders while also taking some time to just happily jam out. Ending with “Fat Man,” a melt-your-face jam fest featuring some incredible drumming from Rob, I am left feeling the same way I would at the end of The Werk’s show: adjusting my wildly messy hair, straightening my skirt, and shaking my fist in the air for an encore.
Just like the last album from The Werks, it is a rare CD that I can keep going on repeat and listen to all the way through. It won’t take me long to memorize all of the words and be there in the front row singing along. With the amazing instrumental skill set that all members hold, along with poignant lyrics and a whole lot of heart, The Werks will continue to captivate. As they say in “Carry Me Back Home”: “It’s the songs we sing and the love you bring that are gonna set me free.”
Listen to the album and download for the price of your choosing: https://thewerks.bandcamp.com/album/mr-smalls-sessions