Update & Recap

Mixing is nearly finished for the new Smart Barker album, All The Rivers In Hades. The record will be mastered by Joe Lambert this coming week. This new album will be released later this month. Not insignificantly, this year marks the 25th anniversary of my musical collaboration with Mark Graybill. We started playing together in graduate school, procrastinating, and did one gig as Burton Ernie. Around 20 years ago, when we each found ourselves in Pennsylvania, Mark and I formed Milton and the Devils Party, with our original and now-current drummer, the inimitable Tommy Traddles.

Actually, as many of you know, this will be the first proper Smart Barker album, excepting Triumvirate, which features live versions of songs from the first three Milton and the Devils Party albums performed as a trio as we made the transition from MDP to SB. In recent years, we have rebranded those releases with the new name, and they’re available for streaming as Smart Barker records. Collectors will find them in compact disc format as Milton and the Devils Party records.

Our first album, What Is All This Sweet Work Worth?, was released in 2004. The twelve songs were produced by Harris London and recorded in Cherry Hill, NJ. The streaming services provide only the date of the re-release, which adds two tracks not on the original release. There was a “revised and expanded edition” released on the New Jersey indie label Face Down Records; this version, however, was not an improvement on the original release, though it seemed so at the time (to me at least—I was wrong). Harris did right by us in the first place; we just felt dissatisfied with the performances and the quality of our equipment. The 2006 version of the album is no longer canon. The 2017 re-release—a third edition, as it were—restores the original performances and mixes, with only a light remastering for streaming, plus the aforementioned bonus tracks, our renditions of The Kinks’ “‘Til The End Of The Day” and The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.”

WIATSWW is a young band’s record, but not a callow one really, as the songs were well tested by many live performances by the time we recorded them. It has that bar-band energy and features very little in its production and arrangements that we couldn’t play live. It is a record about love and attendant emotions (anger, fear, desire, loneliness) and features several “songs of longing and regret.” But it has a sense of humor, too—a less puerile one with the omission of “Nude For Satan,” added to the 2006 edition, dropped from the 2017 version but saved for future release. (I will never give up on that song.) At the time, I was doubtful that I would ever write any songs as good as “Have You Been Around?” or “Theodicy Club,” so making that album and its misguided revision were extremely passionate endeavors on my part. There may yet be a fourth version in 2024, but for now I’m happy to hear it as it is now, which is pretty much what it was then. We’re especially happy that Pat Manley, who co-wrote two of its songs, played guitar and sang on it, has contributed substantially to the new one, ATRIH.

So, as we try to generate some excitement for and interest in the new album, we hope that you will give WIATSWW a listen—perhaps for the first time or for old time’s sake. At the same time, I hope you will listen with some anticipation for the possibility that we did come up with some songs even better than those for the new album.

Note: WIATSWW established two traditions that have continued to the forthcoming release. Each of the four albums (excluding Triumvirate) takes its title from a line in the opening, keynote song; and each of them features a poem that I have adapted as a song (“To Jane,” “The Gods Have Given Up On Immortality,” “Brain!” and “Misterioso”). Dead poet/living poet/dead poet/living poet is the pattern thus far.

Please use the links below to go listen! Subsequent posts will address the second and third MPD/Smart Barker albums.

Listen to What Is All This Sweet Work Worth? at Tidal.

Listen to What Is All This Sweet Work Worth? at Spotify.

Listen to What Is All This Sweet Work Worth? at Apple Music.

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