Phil Smith has been down and out. You can hear it in the downtrodden acoustic guitar, in the melancholic harmonica and mournful violin. Hardship permeates the haunting, hollow vocals and lugubrious cello. Here are reflections on failed ambition, death, drink and weary desperation, yet Year Of the Dog is no self-indulgent lament. “Dreams turn to dust so fast, lives just rust like an old car,” shrugs Smith on Memories. Hangdog Americana joins an acoustic palette of country, folk and blues in an intimately conversational setting. Meditative acceptance is the order of the day, exuded by rhythmic stability and quiet fingerpicking. There’s light on the horizon, though: Avenue Girl adds optimistic piano interjections, while El Corazon springs forth with classical delicacy. Smith manages to carry the hurt atop a resilient undercurrent of hope.