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Smittle Band spins Tales From Tattletown music

By JACK W. HILL SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published November 15, 2012 at 3:56 a.m.

— The Smittle Band, also known as The Smittles, has turned loose a new recording of what the band members call Tales From Tattletown, which band members have described as “a collection of stories from church pews, smoky saloons and strip mall salons.”

“It’s a collection of stories that have all sort of had the quality of nursery rhymes,” says Stephanie Smittle, the group’s lead singer, whose name graces the band. “And there’s a fairly obscure nursery rhyme called ‘On the Road to Tattletown.’ A lot of the stories came from the guys in the band and where they were at different times.”

The band originated about three years ago, when drummer Ray Wittenberg and guitarist Wythe Walker sought a female singer who might be the missing link in the band that they wanted to form. Wittenberg and Walker have been in bands, but neither wanted to take on the role of lead singer.

Enter Smittle, who so impressed them that they not only hired her but also put her name on the band. Then they discovered that not only could she sing such rock classics as The Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post” and Jefferson Airplane’s “Comin’ Back to Me,” but she could also write songs that fit the band’s proclivities.

So Smittle, Walker, Wittenberg and keyboardist Jim McGehee began rehearsing and playing and they soon came up with a recording of songs written by Smittle and Walker: Bright Street, released in October 2010. The new one debuted Oct. 12 with a show at the Historic Arkansas Museum.

Since the first album, McGehee has left the performing lineup, as has John Davies, the bass player who had joined a year or so ago. Davies, who produced the new album, returned to his Northwest Arkansas origins to play in the band Earl & Them, led by Earl Cate of the Cate Brothers Band, in which Davies once played bass. The Smittles’ new bassist is Bill McCumber.

“For a while we thought about being a trio, or maybe adding a tuba,” Smittle recalls, “but Bill, who’s played in a lot of local groups, is one of the best listeners, and came in and just learned all of our songs. He’s played five or six of our gigs since then.”

McGehee plays keyboard, piano and Wurlitzer on the new album, which also features an unusual talent seldom heard today: whistling. Davies and guest whistler Stephen Koch are featured, puckering up, on the songs “Lay Up Your Treasures” and “Sea Sky Sun.” The song “Bottom of the Bucket” features several local musicians and music fans, including Tina Turner (Wittenberg’s wife), Koch, Kathleen King and Aaron Sarlo.

Wittenberg notes the main difference between the first and second CDs: “The first CD we just practiced real hard and went in and recorded. This CD took time and effort and included other musicians [and] we really wanted Stephanie to stretch out.”

The new CD is more of a collaboration by the whole group, says Smittle, who works at Verizon Wireless. In the meantime, she also has been taking vocal lessons in Dallas and Hot Springs and in December, she will travel to New York for vocal coaching by some operatic musicians.

“It’s a chameleon thing, I suppose,” she says. “I’ve been encouraged by my voice teachers to go up and meet some folks. And I did a thing in September with a new group in Little Rock, Opera in the Rock, which has something I’ll be doing in next spring and fall. I got to sing Brahm’s [German] Requiem with the UALR Chorus. But I’ve also sung with the Klezmer Band here in town.”

The Smittle Band

9 p.m. Saturday, The Afterthought, 2721 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock

Admission: $7

(501) 663-1196

Weekend, Pages 37 on 11/15/2012

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