Photo courtesy Amy Davis
Brooklyn-based musician Jonah Smith doesn’t think of himself as a pessimist. His skepticism, he reasons, is merely a product of its time. And to be fair, what else is there to make of the reflective lyrics and ponderous Fender Rhodes licks from such a generally affable guy?
After portraying legislators as “fumbling for a light somewhere in the dark" on his 2009 album Lights On, Smith’s political wit is back with a vengeance on his new offering, Little Known Cure. He rails against commercialism and the loss of individuality in a song called 'Big Box Town'. In other moments he compares investment bankers to cocaine dealers and speaks of “old money hiding in vacant houses along the Bay.”
“If that alienates me from half of New York, fine by me,” Smith grins.
He is an artist firmly rooted in the new music industry. Not affiliated with a major record label, he does not pander to record executives and writes about whatever topic he fancies. In between his last two solo albums, both rootsy and pensive, Smith collaborated with a different stable of musicians to create a strident, swashbuckling rock effort unlike any of his previous work. They then released the album – called The Statesmen – for free web download. All of these are strict no-no’s in the old-school model.
However, structural changes in the music industry make it easier for artists like Smith to thrive. He has won open songwriting contests and gained recognition from the music counter-establishment, such as an Independent Music Award for 'My Morning Scene' (off his self-titled debut album) in 2007. He maintains his own fan list, responds to emails personally, and licks the stamps himself when he mails his albums to radio stations.
The hard work is paying off as Smith’s audiences get bigger and bigger. For Lights On, a Paypal donation button on his web site raised $15,000 for studio expenses, not to mention one fan who provided free legal services and another who made a road case for Smith’s piano.
When the husky-voiced singer hits Catalunya this month, he will be eager to re-connect with the fans that received him warmly during his last visit. “Audiences in Spain are very adventurous and open to hearing eclectic music,” he reflects. “The culture is so accepting of art.”
In fact, Smith has long been coming to Spain at the insistence of his band’s Catalan guitarist, David Soler, whom he met in New York in 2001. His last tour was covered by Esquire Spain, with La Vanguardia calling him “one of the most important voices in modern soul music today.” This year he will play during the 10th anniversary celebration for Mas Sorrer, the restaurant and jazz bar in the province of Girona.
“Playing abroad is fun,” Smith says. “Being an artist from New York make me kind of a commodity.”
CONCERT INFO: Jonah Smith and his 5-piece band, August 27th, 2012, 9pm. €10
Mas Sorrer, Carretera 643, km 0.5. Gualta - Girona. http://massorrerjazzbar.com. + 34 677 458 854.