Below is the review, by Pieter Wijnstekers of Dutch mag Heaven, of Year Of The Dog. Translated by Petra Heemskerk.

Year Of The Dog is the third album from Brisbane, Australia based singer-songwriter Phil Smith and the album cover (a moody black / white photo of Smith against a black background) is as bare and honest as the music he presents to us. Or perhaps not because, although the basis of Smith’s beautiful songs are shaped by his voice and guitar, as well as banjo, they are usually subtly further coloured in by piano, violin, mandolin, pedal steel, cello and harmonica. It lends the album a wonderful folky atmosphere that, along with Smith’s beautiful voice, is reminiscent of comparable troubadours like Neil Young, Nick Drake or Ryan Adams, all three artists whose quality Smith approaches here. All this makes The Year Of The Dog an album that is as timeless as it is touchingly classic. One that perhaps will be overshadowed by albums that are more self congratulatory, but that will ultimately last at least a lifetime. 8.5/10.

“A stark and honest album from a brilliant songwriter” is how americanaUK’s James McCurry described Year Of The Dog, giving it 8 out of 10.

Read on for the full review…

It’s said that those born in the year of the dog are forthright, faithful, spirited, dexterous, smart and warm-hearted.  They’re also stubborn with the right things.  It’s perhaps fitting then that Phil Smith decided that his 3rd release be titled “Year Of The Dog”.  The well-travelled Brisbane based troubadour wrote and recorded the album over a period of 3 ½ years and, given the overall tone of the album, that period threw a lot his way.  It’s clear that it’s been a long haul.

Like the best songwriters in the genre, Smith manages to shape an album of his and others’ troubles, a dash of drink, women, self-reflection and redemption. And like the best albums, “Year Of The Dog” avoids being defined by its mood; relying on the strength of the songs rather than the weight of the subject matter.

Calling Home is an affecting opener, with additional guitar and faint pedal steel offering some classic country licks and emotive atmospherics as Smith sings “rivers in the darkness we must cross, or remain forever lost. I promise to return dear, but I must go. Calling home. I’m calling home”. It is a song that recalls the best heart-breaking work of Ryan Adams.  In fact, the best tracks on the album evoke Adams, Townes Van Zandt and Kris Kristofferson.

There are nods to a number of his influences, such as Avenue Girl with echoes of Nick Drake or Neil Young, while Homeward Bound is an effective Ryan Adams and Bob Dylan fusion.  Memories is one of the best songs you’ll hear this year – sounding like Van Zandt channelled through Whiskeytown.  Like the rest of the album, the weight of the words resonate and Smith’s phrasing is perfect in sending the message home.  El Corazon, where the intricate picking is accompanied by some subtle piano, sounds like something Richard Buckner or Calexico may have produced.

The Ballad of Joseph Henry is possibly the stand-out.  A remarkable song which also happens to be the first of a tremendous 3 song cycle that brings the album to a close. It’s followed by The Train, which a is an effective Whiskeytown and Cardinals- era Ryan Adams fusion and Sometimes You Laugh; a song about the hazards of bottle that would not be out of place of Springsteen’s Nebraska or Damien Jurado’s Where Shall You Take Me?

Between his troubles and those of the people he has met on his journey, Smith has crafted a very special album.  Stark and honest, but special.

Rob Dickens is a Melbourne based roots music blogger and supporter. His site is, and below is what he had to say about the new album Year Of The Dog.

Phil Smith hails from Brisbane Australia and is a very impressive singer and storyteller.  He is about to head out on the road for a significant tour around Australia for his new album Year Of The Dog.

The new album has seeped into my brain, slowly and steadily.  It’s a release without an emotional filter and it is stripped bare on every level.

The album for me has a deep and resonating serenity.  It is stark and profound.  The opening track “Calling Home” is a perfect blend of melody, rich voice and Dave Rawlins or Milk Carton Kids guitar picking style.  “Broken Rivers” strives for truth and freedom in another delightfully restrained piece, this time with banjo.  “Homeward Bound” is world-weary and shows a mature hand, while “Avenue Girl” is reminiscent of Nick Drake with its acoustic strumming and piano combo.  “Nightwinds” again has Smith’s voice way out front in the mix with subdued guitar and other augmented sounds pushed back for effect – backing vocals and pedal steel.

“Memories” details a drug overdose and “The Train” recounts an emotion-laden funeral day.  I am particularly fond of a number of songs/tunes called “El Corazon” and I can add Smith’s song to my list – it is beautiful and sublime from start to finish.

From all reports, 2013 was a long, hard year for Phil Smith but it has provided plenty of excellent material for Year Of The Dog, which is a brutally honest musical journal.  It’s not all doom and gloom though – there’s hope and light here as well.

Year Of The Dog is an intense and captivating release.  I look forward to his tour and seeing Phil Smith live and personal.

“Like the best songwriters in the genre, Smith manages to shape an album of his and others’ troubles, a dash of drink, women, self-reflection and redemption. And like the best albums, “Year Of The Dog” avoids being defined by its mood; relying on the strength of the songs rather than the weight of the subject matter.”

James McCurry.

Read the full review in the ‘Press’ section of this site or copy and paste the link below into your browser.

Wow! So this is the uber cool new vid for El Corazon, track 7 from the new album Year Of The Dog. It was shot and edited super quickly by two Brisbane based videographers, Jezza Keegan and Tom McCaw, with the talented Morgan Hann providing the piano playing. Enjoy!!


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.

Jessie Cunniffe.