This Spring, Portland, Oregon’s acclaimed family music artists Aaron Nigel Smith and Red Yarn are releasing their first collaborative album, Smith & Yarn, out April 29, 2022. The first single, “Brothers & Sisters,” is available today, April 15, in advance of the album release on Aya World Productions / Red Yarn Productions and distributed by Tuff Gong International.
The spirited collection mixes their signature styles of reggae, funk, folk, country and roots rock into a unique blend of sounds and cultural traditions. The music is fused with lyrics that celebrate unity, activism and friendship in a warm and welcoming way.
Aaron Nigel Smith is a GRAMMY®-nominated producer, teaching artist and nonprofit leader and Red Yarn, aka Andy Furgeson, is an award-winning Texas-born family folkrocker and puppeteer. Smith and Furgeson have been friends and colleagues in the Portland family music community for the last decade. They’ve worked together on events, taught side-by-side, and sung on each other’s projects, but Smith & Yarn this is their first in-depth creative collaboration.
After talking about making a record together for years, Smith pitched the idea for a country-reggae hybrid in fall 2020. They were sharing a livestream studio to weather the pandemic and began writing and recording songs together. For a year and a half, they each brought new songs to the table, fleshed out tracks in Smith’s home studio, and invited guests to contribute remotely. Smith & Yarn represents a long, organic collaborative process that pushed both artists outside of their comfort zones, yielding songs and sounds that neither would have created alone.
“It was such a joy to collaborate with Andy on this project!” says Smith. “I feel like we tapped into a unique and dynamic sound. It was super fun to allow creativity to lead the way as we explored ways to bridge the sonic qualities of reggae, folk, and country music. Although it may seem like these genres are on the opposite sides of the spectrum, I found it incredibly refreshing to create with Red Yarn in the spirit of demonstrating collaboration, compromise, and unity.” Furgeson adds, “This collaboration was a long time coming and a dream come true. I’ve been a fan of Aaron’s work for a long time, so it was a privilege to learn from his creative process and musical skills. The project definitely stretched us both to explore new genres, try new approaches to songwriting, work with guest musicians we admire, and find the commonalities between our styles and processes.”
The album carries a twangy energy of optimism that’s guaranteed to lift listeners spirits. Through their cowritten lyrics, Smith & Yarn address relatable and important topics delivered in a gentle and positive way. Opening the album is the folky “Brothers & Sisters” which sets the tone as it encapsulates many of the album’s overarching themes, including interracial unity. “Mix It Up” is a playful country-funk-blues jam summarizing the blend of genres and “Never Be Alone” is moving and comforting ballad featuring the incredible vocals of country artist Rissi Palmer. “Truth” offers a high energy jamboree that addresses how misinformation can circulate between us while “Swing Your Partner” is a relatable tune about finding human connection during the pandemic. In the quietly emotional “Elijah,” Smith & Yarn pay tribute to Elijah McClain, the young Black massage therapist and violin player who was killed by police in Aurora, Colorado in 2019. “Make Some Change” touches on grassroots activism and was inspired by the racial justice protests after George Floyd’s murder, which were notably active in Portland. Other songs on the album include “Shine On Me”, “River” and “Don’t Pass”. While both Smith and Furgeson are known for their work with children, the artists believe this collection will speak to audiences of all ages with its socially relevant themes.
Smith & Yarn features guest vocals by country powerhouse Rissi Palmer, family reggae star Father Goose, activist-rapper SaulPaul, Karen Kalafatas of Karen K and the Jitterbugs, and Portland kindie rockers Kelli Welli, Mo Phillips. Instrumentalists include Jake Blount, Benjamin Hunter, and Brian Farrow (all leaders in the Black string band revival), family music pioneers Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer (banjo and mandolin), reggae stalwarts Jubba White (drums) and Dale Haslam (bass), kindie super-producer Dean Jones (keys, trombone, percussion), and Portland country luminary Paul Brainard (pedal steel and dobro).