Anthony Smith charges through country music like a bull in a china shop—shaking and rattling the music with bold bravura. Tall and broad-shouldered, the long-haired country boy from East Tennessee breaks rules and ignores the usual polite Nashville conventions.
On Sunshine, his first album for Krankit Records, Smith comes on fun, funky and strong. The record produced by Smith, with Bobby Terry lending additional production assistance on singles and long-plays. Featuring all Smith original compositions save one, Sunshine glows with a bright, fiery intensity worthy of its name.
"I'm just being me," beams the singer-songwriter, who approaches life with the same hold-nothing-back passion that fills his music. "I have never tried to sound like anyone else. I have always wanted to be me, musically. I'm doing the kind of music I love in the only way I know how."
The distinctive music Smith makes injects a rock 'n' roll swagger and funky, fresh rhythms into a style of music that is undeniably contemporary—and undeniably country. "I like getting a reaction," he says. "My music isn't the kind you sit and passively listen to. It's going to make you move, and it's going to make you react and feel something. I want an emotional response—whether it's good or bad or romantic."
Smith knows about creating hit songs, as he's had a long string of them as a songwriter—and each of them draws the kind of unfiltered response from listeners as Smith's new recordings. His songs have been recorded by a virtual "Who's Who" list of Nashville's superstars, including; George Strait, Montgomery Gentry, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Lonestar, Trisha Yearwood, Van Zant, Lori Morgan, Sammy Kershaw, Josh Gracin, Trick Pony, Kenny Rogers, Shooter Jennings, and others. Some of his hits include: George Strait's huge hit, "Run" and crowd favorite, "Cowboys Like Us," Trace Adkins' two out-of-the-gate smashes, "Chrome" and "I'm Tryin'," Tim McGraw's "Kill Myself" and recent release "Kristofferson," Rascal Flatts' "My Worst Fear" and Montgomery Gentry's recent top five hit "Whattaya Think About That?"
Although an accomplished writer, Smith has always been a performer first. "I've never written a song for another artist to cut," he says. "I always wrote songs for myself, for me to do on stage and to record. Publishers and other artists heard them and wanted to cut them or get them cut, and that's tremendously flattering to me. But my intent was always to be on stage singing what I write."
Sunshine blazes with the same catchy power and creativity that drew other artists to make hits out of Smith's work. The album not only shows off the guitar-driven, soulful strut of Smith's muscular country rock, but also the unique forcefulness of his voice and the sweeping range of his musical and production capabilities.
"Bringin' Back the Sunshine" is a classic summer hit that works equally well on country and rock radio. It is part Alan Jackson, part Manfred Mann's Earth Band as it emerges happiness and enjoying what can be simplicity of life—powered by catchy guitar riffs, naturally. "Dandelion" celebrates a country boy's relation with nature and the opposite sex. Its playful suggestiveness and funky guitar hooks and operatic "nah, nah, nah" melodies make it a unique radio hit. Smith's vocals, sly and sassy and slurring, fill the song with a lusty, good-time energy.
Meanwhile, songs like "Almost Sacred" and "Love Is Love Is Love" offer grown-up views on making one's way through life and finding out what matters most. Both songs allow Smith to show off what an expressive singer and clever lyricist he can be, while allowing Smith to show that even songs on deep topics can still rock with fresh accessibility.
Smith brought in close friend and Country Music Hall of Fame member Porter Wagoner for one of his last studio recordings before his death. The playful "Hillbilly Romeos," with Wagoner's witty commentary playing off of Smith's lead vocals, is the perfect tribute to a country legend who loved songs that were playful and about rural life. Porter's vocals may be some of his best ever and mesh well with Smith's trademark sounds. Meanwhile, "Natural Disaster" is the kind of steel-guitar country meets southern rock song that recalls classic country artists like Hank Williams, Jr. and Travis Tritt. When Smith sings, "I am no stranger to all of God's wonders, and I have survived all kinds of hell," the listener knows he's speaking the truth of experience.
What runs through each song is a huge personality and the accompanying jolt of energy that Smith brings to everything he does. "I don't like holding back," Smith says. "I like to put it all out there, on the page and on the stage. Audiences know when you're being real, when you're talking about what you know and what you feel."
Indeed, if Smith seems exceptionally comfortable and uninhibited on stage, it's because his musical experience goes back to his formative years. He can still remember, after learning to play guitar in elementary school, the first time he took his guitar to school and bashed out a song on the playground. "I had always been a really shy, withdrawn kid," he says. "Girls never paid attention to me, I was too shy to talk to them. But I'd put that guitar on, and something would happen. All my shyness went away when I started to perform."
Ever since then, Smith's goal has been to get a strong response from those in front of him, whether it's a songwriter night, a honky tonk, an arena or a stadium—he can make them all come alive with music. "You know what's funny?" he asks. "In school, I flunked out in English and music classes. But I make my living as a writer and a musician. And the reason I think that happened is because I love to entertain. I love to rock a crowd and get everyone going. I've loved it since that day on that playground and every day ever since. My education was learning what makes people stand up and shout and have a good time and what moves them inside and out."
That commitment comes through in his guitar work, with its mix of aggressively catchy chords and uplifting chorus-like tones, and it comes through in how Smith leads his band through arrangements that are both in-your-face and full of clever, wholly distinctive ideas. "There's an instrumental song on the record called 'Anaconda Cowboys', which is also the name of my band," Smith explains. "When we hit the stage, we come to play. That's why I wanted to have a song showing off our chops. I love those albums, like Charlie Daniels and the Allman Brothers, which included an instrumental. I wanted to bring that back on Sunshine."
Smith showed what he could do with his first album, If That Ain't Country, one of the most critically acclaimed country albums of the new millennium. The Mercury Records release included three Top 40 hits and won over a broader group of fans everywhere Smith performed or where his songs were played. The lessons Smith learned since then involve how to bring even more of himself and his stage energy into the studio.
One of the memorable songs included on Sunshine is entitled "I Lived That Song." Indeed, the blood and experience and heart pulsing through these songs prove in every chord that Smith not only lives this music, he loves it with all of his soul.
His performances will convince everyone else to love them, too.