David G Smith Album Review: "Witness Trees"
Updated: May 31
Artist: David G Smith Album: Witness Trees Release: 2023 Website: https://www.davidgsmithmusic.com/ Internationally acclaimed Artist-Songwriter David G Smith is an acoustic solo performer with a lyric-intensive style. His music is a blend of Folk, Americana, Country & Blues. David has released 10 albums that feature Grammy nominee Mary Gauthier and Grammy winner Keb Mo on four of them. His songs have been featured on TNT, Lifetime Network, and Travel Channel. I could write 10,000 words about this latest release ,Witness Trees. David's voice is warm, the songs are well crafted and impeccably recorded. This 11 song set runs the gamut through all the things that make a great Americana release. At times it reminds me a bit of the stripped down sound of Bruce Sprinsteen's Nebraska album. Not so much in style, but just the vibe that is embedded in the songs. David's voice pulls the listener into the world that these songs live in and makes you want to stay. The first track River Gonna Talk is simply perfect. It is bluesy and dirty. It features a repetitive acoustic guitar line that becomes hypnotic in its fantastic filth! The recording is layered perfectly with an organ part that adds quite a bit of funk to the production. The occasional slashing slide guitar lets you know this is deeply rooted in southern soul and blues.
Let's Take Our Time and Do It Right is a slinky little piece of blues music. The guitar comes in setting the shuffle in motion. It has a rolling piano that sounds like the keys are chipped and the finish is worn off. There is a faint guitar line throughout that sounds like the mic was placed across the street to capture that room sound. It took guts to pull the mic that far from the amp to get that sound. Whoever made that call deserves congratulations on it, because they couldn't have done it better than they did. That kind of attention and commitment to guitar tone would make Jimmy Page raise an eyebrow.
She's Gone is a cut that captures David in his most intimate setting. Primarily an acoustic finger picked guitar takes center stage with subtle instrumentation barely bubbling up, never interfering with a world class vocal take. He just seems comfortable within his skin and voice. The kind of comfort that is so relaxed and patient that it becomes calming to the listener. My favorite track is None of Em Dead. This one reminds me a bit of Mark Knopfler's solo work, particularly his song Sailing To Philadelphia. The vocal is as fluid as Knopfler's guitar playing, which I mean as the highest compliment. It's a story of some great ones that are gone, but maybe they're not. It is a masterpiece of a song. We live in a time where so much music is generated by computers, pitch corrected and compressed to the point that the air has been extracted. This album renews the hope for something real. Music that is actually played instead of programmed. Songs that tell stories and have interesting instrumentation and arrangements. Unfortunately, the art of songwriting seems to have disappeared from the mainstream. But know that there are artists like David G Smith out there in the dark corners of music venues that are still doing something that matters. Something that makes you smile because it's real. Something that makes your face contort a little bit because of the grit that comes from a swat of a dobro. This record embodies that sound. I highly recommend this album to those wondering what happened to well crafted songs and real players. This album is proof that they're still out there. Of the eleven songs there is nothing that even flirts with filler. As I said at the top of the review, I could write 10,000 words about it. But seven will do... It is just great and plain cool!
Check out the interview below!
Tell us the brief history of your musical career. I’m a songwriter, first and foremost. I’ve been writing since I was in grade school and did some performing as a teenager. Later, I played out professionally as a ‘musician' performing in a number of bands, trios and duos primarily as a keyboardist/guitarist/songwriter/singer. After years of performing I realized it was songwriting that really tripped my trigger and it became my main focus, so much so that I moved to Nashville, TN, still considered to be the songwriter capital of the world. After several years working as a ‘pure’ songwriter I put the artist hat back on (with much encouragement from others on the indie tour circuit) and now consider being an 'artist-songwriter' as my career path. The current release, Witness Trees, is my 11th release. Who are your musical and non-musical influences? Musical: Almost any musician I’ve ever heard; any blues musician I have ever listened to, both male and female: Blind Willie Johnson and Robert Johnson for their haunting distinctiveness; James Brown and Sly & TFS for their dirt funk; the Beatles for their overall creativity; CSNY for their songs and vocals; Vanilla Fudge for their ability to take a song they didn’t write and make it their own; Leonard Cohen for his zen-like insight; Joni Mitchell and Sister Rosetta Tharpe for their ability to transcend; Hank Williams for his simplicity; Oscar Peterson and Herbie Hancock for their musical phrasing and articulation; Jimi Hendrix, Stephen Stills and Duane Allman for their percussive and innovative guitar styles; Stevie Ray Vaughn for his brilliance; Harry Belafonte, Rissi Palmer and Mary Gauthier for their relentless spirit. There are many, many more….but I’ll stop here. Non-Musical: My wife. My immediate and extended family. Many of my friends. Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, Abraham Lincoln, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Tina Turner for how she fought to survive an almost impossible life situation. There are many more.
Is there a particular song that has resonated with you for a long time? Bobbie Gentry and her song “Ode To Billy Joe”. In a word: haunting (on so many levels). Another song comes to mind “Wichita Lineman” by Jimmie Webb that may have the best couplet ever written: And I need you more than want you/And I want you for all time. What’s your favorite accomplishment as a musician thus far? I’ll take accomplishment over accolade any day. My favorite would be my Give-Back Series where I donate time and or money to a variety of deserving causes through the joy of music. Meanwhile, I continue to build a body of work with my songs. What's the best piece of advice another musician ever gave you? Put the artist hat back on and quit chasing Nashville. What's new in the recording of your music? My long time friend and producer, Blue Miller, passed away unexpectedly during the recording of my previous album. So I had to find a new producer. Another friend, and mentor, Mary Gauthier (go-shay) sent me over to her producer, Neilson Hubbard. He’s the reason and the energy behind the new album Witness Trees. It’s Ray Wylie Hubbard cool-sounding….and I see Neilson and I working together again. How has your music changed over the years? I’ve learned how to let the song (rather than me) direct traffic during the writing process and let it say what it wants to say. What inspires you to write the music you write? There is much beauty in the world. Once in awhile, I write about that. More often though, when I see something that isn’t so beautiful, be it how we treat each other or our environment, I want to write something that inspires us to do better. What made you want to play the instrument you play? Short answer: Nature & Nurture. Growing up in our house, piano lessons were mandatory for my sibs and me beginning in 2nd grade. I remember reading stories about sports figures in grade school (Babe Ruth, Jim Thorpe, Knute Rockne) and I began writing vignettes and poems. Nature apparently took over later when I taught myself to play the guitar and flute and harmonica….and started writing songs, mostly on the guitar. How does your latest album differ from any of your others in the past? I feel more comfortable in my skin as an artist-songwriter. Each album gets better that way. How are you continuing to grow musically? I listen to other artist songwriters I admire both live and via recordings. Also, when I mentor, I inevitably learn as much or more than I teach. Are there any musicians who inspire you that are not famous? What qualities do you admire about them? Dave Moore: he gets to the heart of the songwriting matter, no muss, no fuss. Mary Gauthier (she’s semi-famous:) she takes "writing the truth” to a new level. James D. Turley: the guy is a songwriter genius and doesn’t even know it. But then again, he doesn’t have to. He paints pictures into his lyrics…then draws you in before you realize what’s happening and you’re going, yea, that’s exactly how I feel! Describe your worst performance. What did you learn from this experience? Any performance where I’m unable to CONNECT with the audience makes me feel awful. Tell me what your first music teacher was like. What lessons did you learn from them that you still use today? I learned the basics of piano from a Catholic nun, Sister Mary LaDonna, beginning in 2nd grade. She taught me the fundamentals to form the basis for all the other instruments I’ve picked up and self-taught along the way: guitar, resonator, flute, harmonica, Hammond, synthesizer. If you could play anywhere or with anyone in the world, where or with who would it be? Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado (came so close). I’d open for most anybody. St. Jude Children’s Hospital/Memphis (I did that once; I’d love to do it again). If you could change anything about the music industry today, what would it be? OH MY!!!!!! Item #1: figure out a system that allows songwriters to make a REAL living (pay the rent, put food on the table, afford and raise children if one wanted to). Songwriters may be the only artistic discipline that cannot determine its own revenue stream. What do you think the best aspects of the music business are? Creating artistic content that is cathartic. What strengths do you have that you believe make you the musician you are? In a word: perseverance. Describe your favorite and least favorite part about being a musician. Favorite: Finishing a great song. Least favorite: Promoting myself/Booking shows. Do you have any anxiety about performing live? Always. But the butterflies come with the territory….and the pay-off of connecting with a listening crowd is worth it. If you had to choose one... live performance or studio work, which do you prefer and why? Live performance, hands down, because (like Pete Townsend said) it’s the listener that completes the song. What do you think about online music sharing? This is kind of like asking where I think the horse is 25 years after it escaped from the barn. If the question refers to illegal file sharing, the practice most certainly has prevented song content creators from making a decent living. In addition, we continue to be one of a few, if not the only, artistic profession that cannot control its own revenue share (that’s determined by a triumvirate of judges). As far as legitimate music sharing, we’re talking parts-of-pennies derived from a myriad of sources. When totaled up, regardless of content creator position or stature, the result does not allow one to make a reasonable or sustainable living. Describe your creative process when you write new music. It’s a journeyman’s approach. I work at writing almost everyday. I trust the process….meaning…. I let the song direct traffic. If the lyric isn’t coming, or the music hasn’t shown up, I don’t force it. I let it rest and come back again the next day. If a line I think is amazing isn’t working, I set the line aside, maybe for another song, or until the song shows itself. This approach of ’trusting the process' has never let me down. Give us some advice for new musicians just starting out in the industry. Don’t do it. JK! No, really. Don’t do it. What is your favorite piece of gear and why? Any guitar that has a great song to be found in it is my favorite. How do you prepare for your performances and recording work? Performance: I rehearse many songs and do not generally prepare a set list. It’s more interesting to me to play the mood of the room ‘by ear’, and adjust my song-list to the vibe. Recording: I try new songs out during live performance. I keep playing the ones that work. I keep working on the ones that don’t….or toss em! By the time I get to the studio, I want the songs to be feeling like a comfortable pair of shoes. However, there are some songs that don’t come together until they hit the studio. Funny how that works sometimes. What do you like most about your new album? The songs. The production. That there isn’t a knuckle dragger song in the bunch. How do you promote your band and shows? I try to do promote tastefully.I promote content and production quality. And I have a professional team that consists of radio, publicity, social media manager, booking agent and others as needed. What is the best way to stay updated on current news; gigs, releases, etc. Here’s a LinkTree link; it lists everything: https://linktr.ee/davidgsmithmusic
Anything you would like to share, from new merch to upcoming shows/tours or songs/albums? Like the songs themselves, our camp likes to create art. Even the merch tends to be art and much of it is hand-crafted. Check out the store and “Art Corner” at: davidgsmithmusic.com What's next for you? I’ll continue to write, record, tour and give back. I also started up a live performance series called “Songs & Stories” in 2019. It’s a performance format that puts a spotlight on the song and songwriter. I invite songwriters from around the planet to sit in-the-round with me and perform songs and tell the stories behind them in a 200 seat-er room. What are your interests outside of music? Tennis, biking, hiking, reading, traveling. Tell us a fun fact about yourself. Ice cream rules! Anything Else You Would Like to Include? If it resonates, never give up.