Changing Shades makes for an unrivaled co-pilot on just about any western Montana highway. The driving rhythms, those see-sawing banjo licks, that slightly melancholic fiddle—all synch with the pounding cadence of tires on pavement. Even the lyrics echo the timelessness of ridgelines rolling steadily past.
At its heart, this latest album from Missoula's Lil Smokies is about memory, the kind only time can generate and only ambition can stir. We all remember, for example, where we were the night David Bowie died; the song "The City" opens there. And how many of us reminisce about some past love when the right song comes on? It's a feeling captured in "Might as Well," when vocalist and dobro wizard Andy Dunnigan sings, "Woah, that I still get chills / I probably always will / Whenever I hear 'Tiny Dancer.'"
If Changing Shades steers close to any danger, it's in the Lil Smokies-related remembrances it can kick up for listeners. A snappy line or fleeting vocal harmony easily can get lost as the mind wanders, thinking back on that one time downtown when, like Ms. Marie in the track of the same name, we spun "around and around and round, round, round, round." In that way, the Lil Smokies have crafted an album that inspires second listens, and thirds. If only the highways were longer.
The Lil Smokies play the Wilma Thu, Sept. 28, on their national Changing Shades tour.