Joe Stickley's Blue Print is a folk-rock band — in that order. The gentle strums of Stickley's acoustic guitar provide the engine for many songs on Smoke Leaves Town, while shuffling drums, quavering fiddle and the reedy wheeze of an accordion add color and depth throughout. There's a bucolic whimsy that breezes through the record; lyrics about big rivers, road trips and mountains ranges plant these songs on the front porch, glass of lemonade in hand. Stickley's high, thin voice doesn't always leave a mark, but on songs such as the opening cut, "Davy," he can make his vocals creak and ache in just the right places. He also modulates his singing to suit a song's style such as the banjo-led lullaby "La La Yee," a duet with Springfield, Missouri-based singer Cindy Woolf that's sweet in a syrupy kind of way. The rock aspect of the band's sound pops up less frequently, though songs like "The Road" employ a rushing rhythm and some electric guitar. A Southern-rock swagger comes through on "Sittin' by the Fire," as a ragged slide guitar and thick organ chords provide a launching pad for Stickley (and his backup singers). It's the best song on this album by some distance, and it proves that the group can put some muscle behind its sound — not just with volume and rock & roll dynamics, but with spirited playing and audible passion.
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