Earlier today, one of the best vocalists of our time released his new album, but you won’t have heard any fanfare about it. I only found out through his Twitter feed, and downloaded it from a Bandcamp link. It shouldn’t really be like this, but sometimes the music that means most to you comes from the artists who get the least attention from others, and that’s certainly the case with Shawn Smith.
He’s hardly an unknown of course, having been in at least three amazing bands – Brad, Satchel and Pigeonhed – and his voice is all over The Sopranos with several solo songs and one Pigeonhed track being used in The Best TV Show Ever. Like most people, I discovered his music through Brad, because they are a side-project of Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard, and it was Interiors that hooked me. The two songs that open that album could hardly be more different, with the rocking Secret Girl and the soulful The Day Brings both showcasing various sides of Smith’s voice.
Through The Sopranos I heard Battle Flag, a Pigeonhed track that is a world away from Brad, showing that Smith can be funky and aggressive too, and the two albums he made with Steve Fisk in that group are hugely entertaining, but I have to admit that I do prefer Smith when he’s in more reflective and melodic form. His new album Sunshine has that in spades, from the piano-led opener Cloud To Cloud to the twangy country feel of Waiting For Sunshine and the immense Love And Riots, already one of my favourite Shawn Smith songs. And that’s just the first three of nine tracks. Download it here, now!
And even all this is just scratching the surface, with his work to help commemorate the life of Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood in From The North/All Hail The Crown reaping great results. Brad’s album Best Friends? was one of the highlights of last year for me and they seem to be working on new material at the moment. Perhaps it is this scattergun approach that has kept Smith a cult figure, but the sheer quality of all of it is why he deserves a large cult following and as long as he keeps recording new music, he’ll have one fan here. If only he’d come and play in Manchester…