It’s a pleasure and a rare one to boot to watch an artist continually get better. For most, the lifetime of backlogged creative exuberance on debuts and early recordings are the high water mark of their career. There are exceptions, often found in musicians who regard what they do as a work-in-progress, the long view informing every step. Bryan Elijah Smith is this sort, a precociously mature singer-songwriter marbled with a restless drive to refine and reinforce every good aspect of what he does. From DI’s introduction to Smith as a shipboard busking chum to another glorious exception (to so many rules) Nathan Moore on through his nicely crafted, pop-tinged studio work, we’ve been kept attentive by what this young artist. Each chapter has proven a bit stronger than the last, and always the horizon seems broad and bright for what Smith will ultimately create.
Still, it’s worth pondering each fresh salvo so one doesn’t miss the charms and nuances of what’s currently at hand. Case in point, Turn It Up, the latest album from Smith and his increasingly fine band The Wild Hearts. A more pronounced rock vibe permeates this set, the energy of the band recording in the same room picked up on tape, the group’s live presence honed into a quality studio counterpart. As usual the personal and populist mingle appealingly in Smith’s songs, the mixture suggesting a new millennial answer to cats like Jim Croce and Bob Seger (Smith shares a similarly manly husk to his singing as well as Bob’s lusty lyrical overtones). But it’s not like Smith and his collaborators are harking back to another time. This feels young and modern but it has some of the same general public appeal and assured swing that AM radio had in its 60s/70s heyday. Songs like “Roses & Wardens,” the title cut, and “Run Around” are the sort most folks will dig right away and then want to return to again and again. The free spirited cover shot of Smith’s grandmother – who the album is dedicated to – neatly hints at the joie de vivre and gusto for a life that burns brightly inside this album. One imagines that lady would be proud of her radio-ready troubadour descendent.
We’ve always found Smith to be a thoughtful cat, so we decided to see what he had to say in DI’s ongoing philosophical roundtable.
- What’s the first thing that springs to mind when you see the word “God”?
- Which has the better cosmology, Star Wars or Star Trek? Why?
- I loved the most recent remake of Star Trek. I have to go with Star Trek. It seems more realistic to me. It should be noted that I’m not very knowledgeable when it comes to Star Wars.
- Name one album that has spiritual resonance for you.
- Ray LaMontagne’s Till The Sun Turns Black. It saved my life. Not only that, it changed the way I feel and write music.
- Woody Allen once said, “I don’t know the question but sex is definitely the answer.” So, what’s the question?
- Can you give me a good title for a new song I just wrote that’s only a minute and a half long and I apologize at the end?
- You can have a dinner party with any three people throughout human history. Who do you invite, what’s on the menu and what intoxicant do you share for dessert?
- I would invite Johnny Cash, Tom Waits and my Grandmother Milred Smith because I miss her. Food would be tacos and tortilla chips with salsa & queso from El Charros, my favorite local restaurant where I live. We would have red wine for dessert.