In the case of Kenny and Amanda Smith, the motivation had been there for quite some time — they knew they wanted to record a gospel album, but every attempt to start the project met some kind of obstacle. This went on for nearly a decade, and while the group garnered no small amount of acclaim and recognition from the bluegrass community, the desire to record an album like Tell Someone never faded. When Kenny Smith lost his father this year, the wheels finally started turning, and out of loss came this album.
Whether you’ve any real interest in bluegrass or gospel, it’s tough to deny the hypnotic, moody intro the band sets up on the album’s leadoff track, “Shoutin’ Time.” Having a bluegrass superstar like Rhonda Vincent sitting in on the song can’t do any damage to the proceedings, either. Jason Robertson’s spirited mandolin break after the first verse mingles traditional melody with some bluesy harmony, and the sense of momentum the group generates is undeniable.
The clever lyrical turn and storytelling in “Mary Had A Little Boy” is another demonstration of the Smith’s knack for playing to their strengths. Amanda Smith’s fragile vocals convey the story with a heartbreaking intimacy, and Kenny Smith delivers a gorgeous guitar solo here, a study in taste and crafty interval choices. The rather bleak conclusion drawn at the tune’s end may not sit so well with some (a mother’s choice not to attend church ends in the spiritual and moral downfall of her only son) but it’s the way the story is told and the elegant instrumentation that demands a few listens, even by a heathen like yours truly.
Kenny Smith’s guitar playing, whether intentionally or not, steals the spotlight on many tunes on Tell Someone. This probably shouldn’t be a surprise, considering he’s won the IBMA “Best Guitarist of the Year” award twice, and held the spot as guitarist in the Lonesome River Band for six years.
What sets him apart, at least on this album, is his ability to combine elements of traditional bluegrass flatpicking with some more forward thinking note choices. He sounds like a player that revels in the unique things the acoustic guitar can provide in a song, be it the rippling cascade of a clever open string run or a clean flurry of notes. And though there’s no overt “showboating” here, there are more than a few head turning moments if you’re paying attention, especially during his break near the end of “Stepping On The Clouds,” or the sensitive and melodic solo he takes on “Angels Calling At My Door.”
As a vocalist, Kenny Smith’s low tenor provides an ever-so-subtle grit and foil to his wife’s clear lead voice, and the two harmonize with an effortless perfection. On songs where the two switch places, like the album’s finale “Tell Someone How Precious He Is” the results are just as rewarding. And when Smith delivers the melody with solo guitar at the end of the song, the old adage of “less is sometimes more” comes to mind. Tasteful and brilliantly executed.
Yes, there’s a less than subtle message ringing through the course of Tell Someone, and it’s a message that could in some ways polarize those that give this CD a listen. Kate Cambell’s fine For The Living Of These Days provided a more introspective side of the “songwriter finding their faith” idea earlier this year, while Tell Someone gives in to some old-fashioned testifying and preaching a few times during its course. I’m not one to say whether that’s inherently a good or bad thing, but I have to commend the taste and skill of the musicians on this project. Those traits in and of themselves could be enough to turn those of the “not so bible thumping” persuasion on to the merits of the Smith’s latest effort.