Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
There's a lot of tough shit out there to deal with. Some of it's just plain rough. It's painful and it hurts and there's no getting around it. Then there's the other stuff that's essential. It's what makes us. It's what turns us from the unknowing, immature people we all start out as into the compassionate, humble and tender beings that we become if we've done it right. Caroline Smith and her band of the Goodnight Sleeps have made a habit of looking at and listening to the inner-most trappings of these growing pains, of these conundrums that leave so much mentally up for grabs. What can be heard on the group's latest album, "Little Wind," more so than it could be on its debut, is a truer sense of disbelief about what's happening and what's happened so far.
There was something that I read in a recent interview with Steven Spielberg, where the interviewer dropped his guard and related a personal account about his grandfather. They'd been chatting about "Saving Private Ryan" and the interviewer mentioned how that was the movie that made a lot of veterans open up about their experiences. They felt like they were able to talk a little more about the horror and this writer was privy to some stories and a memento that his grandfather had saved - a piece of a bullet that lodged into the dirt in the spot in his foxhole where he'd been sitting mere minutes earlier. The piece of bullet was physical proof that the writer was that close to never existing. It's a powerful reminder and even more powerful to have something to hold that reminds you of such a thing.
Smith doesn't need such things as her mind wanders to those places naturally, without provocation. It's not necessarily that she thinks about what could have or couldn't have happened in getting her to this place, but more what it's been like since. It's been no cakewalk, but her way of dealing with the humanity of it all - with the complexities always outstanding - is impressive and just as touching. She imagines the hard work that her father had to put in when she first came into the world, out in the fields of grain, where he sweats, up to his knees with his plow. He did it religiously, sweated religiously with the thought running through his head that his daughter was worth of it and more. To be conscious of such a thing is easier as a 20-something, but it's still dear and sweet to hear it sung. Smith sings about the ease and the difficulty in friendship and love as if they are one and the same. She makes pain feel beautiful and she makes the most joyous aspects of it sound somewhat bittersweet and rained upon. She gives it all a sheen of even-handed accord, as her voice trails out like a beehive with a slow leak. She sings of past days as if the sunlight of them melted into that orange-ish-pink color that we always marvel at, drool over when we see it. It doesn't mean that they turned out happily, but with time they ironed themselves out into something workable. They could be seen as having served a purpose. They could be seen for what they were worth. They'd all had wings of some sort. She sings on "Gracie," about what seems to be an omniscient, speaking dog. It's a wise old pooch and it seems to be imparted some final words, as Smith describes it, "She licked my hands clean and folded them back to my chest as she said to me/It ain't worth giving up if you don't even know you're giving up/So just do me this one thing/Just hold on for me." The feeling that Smith gives us is that there's never any way to know what you're giving up on, or what you're getting into. There would be no fun in that.