BRADEN HURSH

After four years and two EPs, Saskatoon’s Gunner & Smith independently released their first full-length album He Once Was A Good Man on Feb. 25.

As mainstays of the Saskatoon music scene, it’s fitting that Gunner & Smith recorded and produced their album at The Avenue Recording Studio located above Amigos Cantina, a popular venue for live music in Saskatoon.

Gunner & Smith’s sound is a warm combination of indie, country, folk and rock — making it difficult to give them a genre. Geoffrey Smith’s deep and driving vocals are both complemented and contrasted by the female vocals of Olya Kutsiuruba and Rachel Melena.

The deliberate pace of the lyrics found on He Once Was A Good Man is accentuated by short guitar solos, instrumental breaks and haunting harmonies that emphasize the tone of the music as a whole. Although Gunner & Smith’s music is not consistently upbeat or happy, it is honest and beautiful in its simplicity.

The combined genres of country, folk, indie and rock have started becoming more popular through acts like The Wooden Sky, Dan Mangan, The Head and the Heart, The Avett Brothers and Saskatoon-based The Deep Dark Woods.

Ryan Boldt, frontman for The Deep Dark Woods, produced He Once Was A Good Man. Boldt has a lot of first-hand experience and his influence can be heard throughout the album both lyrically and musically as he also played guitar on several tracks.

The songs found on He Once Was A Good Man examine topics that are personal and easy to relate to.

Opening track “Ease My Mind” talks about the inevitability of change experienced through time, while the title track “He Once Was A Good Man” speaks about dealing with situations that one has no control over.

A recurring theme of the album is the trials and tribulations of being on the road, as heard in tracks like “The Traveler” and “Drifting.” The latter borrows the lines, “Oh I hear my train a-comin/Rollin’ down the line/I have forgotten all my troubles/Like smoke drifting in the sky,” from traditional blues song writing.

The experiences of living on the road in close confines with bandmates and being away from home for extended periods are undoubtedly fertile ground for emotional songwriting.

Much of Gunner & Smith’s music is based around simply dealing with daily life. The feel of many of their songs relates to Saskatchewan in mid-winter and the lasting cold.

Lyrics like, “I can handle rejection/I can handle the night/And I can handle the cold winters too/But some things never change,” show that their music is not meant for a summer day. The colder, melancholy tone is balanced by a hopeful warmth that permeates through the music.

Currently wrapping up a tour that began at The Folk Alliance International in Kansas City on Feb. 21, Gunner & Smith then moved through Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan — playing in Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw last week.

Visit gunnerandsmith.com for more information on the band, upcoming shows and their new album. He Once Was A Good Man is available on iTunes.