Issue #23.20 :: 05/19/2010 – 05/25/2010
Jillian’s: Friday, May 21
BY KEVIN OLIVER
Justin Smith and the Folk-Hop Band has been one of Columbia’s most popular local bands for several years now, especially since the release of World Unknown, which received rock radio airplay for the hard-hitting song “War to be Won.” Smith’s new solo project, Carousel, is a more nuanced, mellow set that eschews rock and hard-edged rap for a jazzier hip-hop style.
Without his Folk-Hop bandmates, Smith enlisted the considerable talents of Jeremy Roberson (Villanova) and Reggie Sullivan (John Satterfield, various jazz ensembles) for a stripped-down jazz trio sound that recalls Jazzmatazz-era Guru or a very laid-back G. Love and Special Sauce.
“The Folk-Hop Band is made up of a lot of solo artists, and I had three solo albums out before collaborating with them,” Smith says when asked why he went the solo route this time around. “I had planned on doing this even before the last Folk-Hop album, and it’s all inspired by my new son. This album is real personal, so I wanted it to be all me.”
The inspiration provided by the birth of his first child had Smith writing not just more personal songs, but more songs period, he says.
“The birth of my son is a total blessing that has changed me and made me a better person,” Smith says. “Musically, it opened up a whole album of lyrics — most of the Folk-Hop songs I wrote were more topical, in a general sense, but these were all written in a two-month period right before and after my son was born, so they’re more specifically about him, and my reaction to him.”
As Smith says, virtually every song is about his son, but he couches the lyrics in terms any new parent can understand. “Pass It On” packs the biggest punch, with its message of passing on a sullied world to our children: “I’d promise you the world, but it’s too stained and tainted / I’d have to wash it, sand it down and repaint it.”
The strongest metaphor, however, comes on the title track, which uses a merry-go-round as a stand-in for the stages of life.
“I was writing the songs pretty fast and that image just popped in my head,” Smith says. “I was thinking of kid’s type songs but it really isn’t a kid song.” With references to taxes, God and the inevitable end of life, it might not be aimed at children, but it certainly can make one appreciate his or her own.
Smith’s laid-back flow is half-sung, half spoken-word or rapped, and the support from Roberson and Sullivan gives these heartfelt hip-hop homilies their heft.
“I have been friends with Jeremy for a long time,” Smith says. “We had talked about doing something like this for a while, but I was looking for something different with a stand-up bass player. Daniel Strickland from the Folk-Hop Band mentioned Reggie Sullivan, and Jeremy already knew him, so they worked really well together.”
Fans of the full Folk-Hop Band lineup needn’t worry, Smith says, as there are no plans to discontinue their collaboration.
“I really lucked out with those guys,” Smith says. “I was deep into doing my Sinner’s Prayer album when Corey Plaugh and I got together at his studio and did a bunch more songs for it. We had been doing straight-up hip-hop songs and Corey was working with his band Flashbulb Memories then, so he basically ended up backing us up with his band. I brought in my DJ and singers, and we had a full band to promote what we were all doing.”
According to Smith, there is already a new album in the works for Justin Smith and the Folk-Hop Band, and the band will be backing him up for the official release of Carousel this week, so expect to hear some of the full band’s songs alongside Smith’s new material.
Issue #23.16 :: 04/21/2010 – 04/27/2010
Justin Smith Rides the Carousel
Plus: River’s Got Rhythm
BY PATRICK WALL
New Noise: Between album releases by The Restoration (see page 59) and The Dubber (page 60) and a sneak-peek pre-release concert by Patrick Davis (also page 60) this week — not to mention recent new releases from Villanova, Sweet Vans and Mercy Mercy Me and new music trickling out from John Satterfield and Hot Lava Monster — it’s a banner time for new local music.
Not to get lost in the shuffle is Carousel, the latest release from Justin Smith. Currently available at Manifest Discs and Tapes and at Smith’s website (justinsmithmusic.net), Smith hosts a listening party at the Hard Knox Grill on Friday. It’s not the album release show, however; Smith officially releases Carousel on May 21 at Jillian’s.
Carousel finds Smith getting back to basics, jettisoning the seven-member Folk-Hop Band for a slimmed-down rhythm section of bassist Reggie Sullivan and drummer Jeremy Roberson. Carousel also finds Smith eschewing the aggressive tendencies of World Unknown, which he released with the Folk-Hop Band last year, for a lighter, breezier sound, one characteristic of his first release, Sinner’s Prayer.
So what about the songs? Well, reader, we could tell you a lot of things. We could tell you that for such a stripped-down record, Carousel sounds remarkably full, a testament to the mastering work of Bernie Grundman, who mastered Thriller and Purple Rain, among others. We could tell you that planned singles “Carousel” and “Let Me Know” are among Smith’s finest moments as a songwriter, and that “Carousel” perhaps best combines Smith’s passions for folk and hip-hop. We could tell you that “Big Hands,” with its simple, catchy melody and jazzy breakdowns, might be the most accessible song of the bunch. And we could tell you that the hidden-track lullaby to his son after the already-impressive “The Chase” is particularly touching.
Sure, we could tell you all these things, reader. But it’s probably best that you hear it for yourself. The listening party begins at 10 p.m.; The Dirty Lowdown, The White Sable and The Mobros — an impressive young folk ensemble — perform. The Hard Knox Grill is at 1000 Knox Abbott Drive in Cayce. Call 834-3910 or visit hardknoxgrill.com for more information.
River’s Got Rhythm: Hot on the heels of the Riverwalk Music Festival, the West Columbia Riverwalk Amphitheatre kicks off the annual Rhythm on the River series on Saturday; this year’s inaugural concert features popular local newgrass ensemble The Papa String Band.
The concert series runs through June 12 — is it just The Playlist, or does that seem a sooner end date than in years past? — and features The Rob Crosby Group (May 1), Angela Easterling (May 8), Villanova’s Brian Conner (May 15), Josh Roberts and the Hinges (June 5) and Joal Rush and the Wares (June 12) among its featured performers. The gem of the series, though, might come on May 29 in the form of a Young Singers Showcase that features promising locals CherryCase, Versus the Robot and The Restoration. Concerts begin at 6:30 p.m., and admission is free. Plus, you get to hang out by the river. Sweet!
The Riverwalk Amphitheatre is on Alexander Road just across the Gervais Street bridge. For more information and a full lineup, call 794-6504 or visit rorsc.com.