Don't judge new artist Jake Smith by his first radio single. "This is Certain" is pretty much what you'd expect from a new solo artist - slightly catchy, with solid piano parts and guitar hooks, packaged together for a fine but slightly less-than-memorable result. But it's also a poor sample of the New Orleans native's rich talent; stacked against the other 11 tracks on Smith's debut, Real, it ends up near the bottom of the pile. The array of bluesy sounds found throughout the rest of the album, however, more than makes up for the lack thereof on the single.
Real is a sweet experience from the very beginning. "Get Up" features verses of freestyle rap and a melodious chorus a la Mat Kearney's "Undeniable." "What I Plan to Do" is the gem of the album; it highlights Jake's smooth vocals, but also features nicely timed bebop, jazzy piano, and even some trombone during the bridge. "These Things" is another highlight, containing more freestyle rap alongside a deep bluesy sound: think Shawn McDonald meets James Brown. I realize that's comparing two very different artists, but Jake's greatest strength is his ability to fuse together dramatically different sounds into his own unique style.
Things really get moving with "Can't Save Your Soul" and "Make Me Move," with synthesizers, drum machines, and rock guitars so catchy that Smith shouldn't need to bother ordering you out of your seat. He does it anyway, declaring, "Come on now you can dance with me / it ain't that hard just move your feet / If the rhythm's too fast man it ain't a sin / hold on fast 'cause here we go again." The album wraps up with "Run" and the 99 second "Outro," a fitting conclusion which proves Jake isn't afraid to slow things down. The other songs I haven't mentioned are all noteworthy as well, with the exception of "Breakdown," the one noticeable weak spot on the album. Its five-word chorus is dull and repetitive, and has no place between the two standouts "What I Plan to Do" and "These Things."
Lyrically, Smith is to the listener exactly what his album title indicates. His honesty is striking for a debut, along the same lines as fellow Rocketown Records artist Shaun Groves' debut Invitation to Eavesdrop. He speaks openly about his Christian upbringing on "These Things," yet warns listeners, "please don't hold me on a pedestal, 'cause I'll probably fall faster than you want me to." He rejects worldly lifestyles on "Can't Save Your Soul" and "Shady," then offers a different way to live on "What I Plan to Do" and "Real Love" ("He took a walk with weight on His shoulder / It was down a crowded street / changing history / He gave a dying world a chance / it was His time but He had you in mind").
Jake's explosively unique debut is one that should catch the ears of fans of many different genres, from Bryan Duncan to Jason Mraz to John Mayer. It also never relies too heavily on a single genre, so it shouldn't isolate listeners as it moves from style to style. With only minor complaints greatly overshadowed by its strengths, Real deserves all the acclaim it is sure to receive.- Review date: 7/28/07, written by Spencer Priest
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