Zak Smith's "Signs Of Life" Reviewed
There’s a possible Springsteen influence in Zak Smith’s work and I reckon with the few articles I wrote earlier on The Boss, that rock nyc now consider me the go to guy on that subject. This is my first real review of an artists’ work. I play music too, so I understand what it is like to work hard on a song for months, even years, only to have a reviewer barely listen to it and then deliver a knock out blow describing your stuff as being as essential or on a par with Hitler’s grandmothers’ choice of support hose still, away we go…
I did not know a thing about Zak Smith before listening to his new cuts from “Signs of Life”, so I Wikipedia’d him and found out that he is NOT the American artist that is also an alternative porno star also known as Zak Sabbath. I did find out that he is from Montclair, New Jersey (I wonder if the Springsteen sound is born with folks from Jersey much like the California surf sound is inherit in most California bred musicians) and by the pictures I see that he sometimes plays with a full band (more on this later).
Signs Of Life‘s songs are acoustic with some backing instrumentation that possibly Zak did himself on his computer in his home studio. The cover depicts an empty office chair in front of a computer in a cluttered room with various instruments and a mic. This isolation away from other musicians might be the reason for the haunting feeling that many of these songs have or possibly I have had too much coffee this morning and need to chill out.
These songs are very Americana and there is an audience out there for this music. I rarely listen to acoustic only LP’s (Nebraska being the one true exception), and a lot of these songs lyrics sort of dance around the subject matter leaving the listener to listen again to songs to try to catch the true meaning involved. There is no self-explaining “Beat on the Brat” type song here. All of the tempos to these songs are mid to slow and showcases Zak’s expressive vocals that have hints of Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison and a touch of Dennis Wilson. It’s an earthy, throaty quality that helps in transmitting the pain of some of these subjects in the songs.
There are 10 songs on Signs Of Life and I won’t review each one, one by one, but will touch on the ones that jump out the most. These days if you have 2 out of 10 songs on a CD that are memorable, you are doing a good job. Smith has 5 out of 10 going for him. Better than Ty Cobb even.
“Have You Looked Outside” is a cool catchy song that would really ignite if sped up a tad with a full band treatment. The back up vocals on this really helps the song move forward. “Raise the Moon” is a heartfelt Van Morrison-esque love song that would be a huge hit in Morrison’s hands. This song would be a nice set highlight with its build-ups and repetitions ala “Backstreets”. “The Universe is Bigger” is a lilting, waltz type, love song with a very nice melody. Zak can write melodies. “The House You Haunt” is a beautiful ballad that could have been left off of “The Rising”, again there is that Springsteen comparison, but folks, there could be worse people to be compared too. The vocal stylings of the late Joey Bishop come immediately to mind. “No Plan B” is reminiscent of Jackson Browne (The Pretender era) when Browne cared more about writing a decent song than boxing women. Honorable mention goes out to “Signs of Life” a song that deals with loneliness and getting your life back together that also has a cool drum beat and arrangement.
Most of these songs don’t come out and touch on a certain subject matter that you can put your finger on. Some songs include the poetic street wordplay that Dylan and Bruce incorporated into their early songs.
All in all, this is a very satisfactory CD and I would take a chance on seeing him in person, especially if he had a full band to back him up.
Again, full blown CD’s of acoustic songs are not my normal cup of tea but at least I didn’t cringe or quit listening to any of these songs in disgust. Zak Smith can write a song with melody and I imagine the Springsteen influences and comparisons will level out in the future. If I were to grade this I would give this a B .