The Cosmic American

The Smokin’ Novas hit all countours of Americana on ‘Travel Mercies’


To say that the Smokin’ Novas have a strong pedigree is something of an understatement.

The band, which combines old school rock n’ roll, Southern rock, Americana, blues, and more, is led by Brian Bristow and Andrew Hyra. The latter was in popular folk duo Billy Pilgrim in the mid-90s, the former in Athens, Georgia powerhouses The Tastemakers and The Highlanders.

They’ve released two albums under the Smokin’ Novas moniker, a self-titled debut in 2015, and Travel Mercies, their latest release.

When I think of the Athens music scene, where the Smokin’ Novas hail from, the first band that comes to my mind is Bill Mallonee’s legendary Americana (and later power pop) band the Vigilantes of Love. The band has a similar style and panache, and like VoL they also explore practically every contour of Americana. Another connection: renowned engineer and producer John Keane, co-engineered their first album and co-produced Travel Mercies, has worked with Mallonee on many of his solo and late-era VoL albums.

The twelve songs on Travel Mercies run the gamut from all-out southern rock to country-tinged ballads to jangly Byrds-y pop rock. Album opener “Greenwood” has a catchy stomp that could get it played on country radio, if country radio had guts, at least. Tender “Wish You Away” features strong harmonies, as many songs do throughout the album, and some wonderfully wistful pedal steel guitar from John Keane. “Waited So Long,” while it has more of a rock edge, has a similar vibe.

Driving waltz “How I Know Grace” is another poppy, catchy track, but it certainly has a requisite Americana grit, something like some of Vigilantes of Love’s poppier side. The jangly 12-string guitar is a nice touch, which gets turned up even more on Jayhawks-esque “Landmine.” “Crawling on Back” is also reminiscent of the Jayhawks, especially melodically.

Travel Mercies ends with the title track. Another affecting ballad, it emphasizes the strength of the Novas songwriting, and their harmonies. It closes the album effectively.

Find out more about the Smokin’ Novas and be sure to buy their albums.

Erik Ritland is a songwriter and journalist from Nashville, Tennessee. He's released 13 records and EPs, most recently 2021's innovative movie album Old Dog Almost Gone. His journalism has been featured on Something Else! Reviews, Music in Minnesota, and more, and his articles have been shared by members of bands as diverse as KISS, the Monkees, Son Volt, and Low Cut Connie.