A veteran of the ’90s Chicago & Seattle punk scenes, Charlie Smyth’s sound has evolved over time, meandering like a tattered feather on the Southern breeze and settling somewhere beneath the ever-widening shadow of modern Americana. Grand, loose and vibrant, the Nashville-based troubadour’s new solo debut, The Way I Feel, is dusted with strings, mariachi horns and wistful blankets of steel guitar, its loose-lugnut drums propelling the whole beautiful jalopy of a record forward as if the wheels could come off at any minute. The record is a breathtaking statement of creative purpose, imbuing its too-often safe and by-the-numbers genre with an undeniable sense of musical adventure.
Influenced by his work as a painter and visual artist, Smyth has a unique way of looking at and describing the world around him, his lyrics unfolding in vivid, earthy brush strokes. “The air tastes like chewed-up pencils / Old beat-up utensils, tossed on the desk like forks in the road / Busted forks in the road / Glittering in the sunshine,” he sings on “Buddy”. The Way I Feel is indeed dripping with sunshine—and plenty of wonder, too, the songs anchored by Smyth’s wizened baritone, which clings by a frayed thread to the quivering harmonies of his wife and frequent collaborator Kalee Smyth. Together, they sound like a gorgeously mismatched pair of classic-country crooners, Dolly singing with Willie or Kristofferson instead of Porter Wagoner, Emmylou with Leonard Cohen or Lee Hazlewood instead of Gram Parsons.
It was Kalee who encouraged Smyth and his freshly wrangled band—Eric Penticoff on piano, bassist Jeff Moon, drummer Adam Mormolstein, multi-instrumentalist Andy Gibson, horn player Jamison Sevits, and one-time George Jones fiddle player Billy Contreras—to record the songs that would become The Way I Feel. “A lot of my friends are great musicians, but they’re high-priced hired guns who stay busy doing sessions and touring for a living,” Smyth says. “I wanted a band I wouldn’t have to pay to play with me, so I began looking for people who wanted to make music just for fun. The structure at the time was, ‘I’m writing songs and playing rhythm guitar. I’m not going to tell you guys what to do. If that sounds fun to you, let’s do it.’ Giving everyone that kind of freedom lit a fire under the band—the energy with that approach was really contagious.”
The Way I Feel kicks off with a decidedly more down-home (if faithfully joyous) cover of Neil Diamond’s Robbie Robertson-produced song “Beautiful Noise,” the original’s synths and accordion swapped out for resplendent, organic brass. It’s one of a handful of satisfyingly constructed covers chosen by Smyth for the album. Featured alongside imaginative originals like “Daggers,” “Country Girl” and “Faithfully” are distinctive renditions of Ray Price’s Slim Willett-penned “Don’t Let the Stars Get In Your Eyes”, the album’s quasi-title cut, “That’s the Way I Feel,” co-written by country greats George Jones and Roger Miller, and another “Possum” cut, “The Cold Hard Truth”, written by Jamie O’Hara. Smyth discovered these songs on budget-vinyl he found at Seattle’s Lifelong Thrift. “Other than ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ the covers on The Way I Feel came from records I picked up at the same place for a quarter each,” he says. “I’ve noticed that on a lot of my favorite singer/songwriter albums, they throw in covers, which is really cool, especially when you don’t realize at first that it’s a cover. With Gram Parsons, I thought ‘Cash on the Barrelhead’ from Grievous Angel was his song, but then I found out it was The Louvin Brothers.’”
The Way I Feel (out July 13) marks yet another promising new chapter for Smyth. “I feel like the collage of sounds and genres you hear on this album are reflective of my own personal history,” he says. “I’ve lived in many different cities over the course of my life, I’ve never stayed in one place for too long, I’ve played all different kinds of music in all kinds of bands. The Way I Feel is my first full-fledged album as a writer—it really captures the specific kind of energy I wanted for a solo LP. Making this record was unlike anything I’ve experienced before.
Glide is proud to premiere Smyth’s The Way I Feel LP (below), a glorious 15-song LP that rekindles the early 70’s spirit of Parsons/Emmylou that provide heartbreaking wistfulness and melodic precision. Like a familiar watering hole where one can wear whatever they want, The Way I Feel goes about good with everything.