Phil Smith: Vocals, Acoustic and Electric Guitars
Many songwriters churn out songs that easily fit in the standard categories of style and influence, reinforcing the mainstream trends. But there are others that live in the seams and cracks that lie between musical hemispheres, forging artistic identities that don't follow the crowd. Phil Smith lives purposefully in the latter category. His new album, Sometimes A Storm, is a captivating and moving debut that reveals an original and poetic talent, one whose music stirs the soul and pulls at the heart.
Born in Japan of an American father and a Japanese mother, Phil was adopted at age two and grew up in a military family, traveling the U.S. and middle east. He received his first electric guitar at age 14, and began playing along with his favorite rock records. He explains, "I learned some basic chords and was able to play along. I found that I had an ear for picking up patterns and licks very early." Almost immediately, he formed a three-piece band and began playing neighborhood garage concerts and recreation centers on the military base. "I would sit and play for hours, trying to figure out chord forms and progressions. And then I would create variations of my own and write lyrics to fit. It was all I wanted to do."
In his twenties, Phil concentrated on acoustic guitar fingerpicking techniques, taking lessons from Oklahoma City's respected guitarist Edgar Cruz, and found the songwriting style that would define him to this day. In 1980, in Stillwater, Oklahoma he met Bryan Waller, and they began performing as a duo, featuring two acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies, covering artists like Firefall, CSNY, Dan Fogelberg, James Taylor and Jim Croce. This new partnership provided a platform for Phil's original music, as well. "Bryan introduced me to the music of Bruce Cockburn. As soon as I heard Cockburn's fingerpicking style, I was mesmerized. We would spend hours trying to figure out his chord forms, tunings and finger picking patterns that were amazing to us."
When Phil moved back to Oklahoma City in 1982, he joined Split Second, a classic rock dance band formed by Guy Ragland, and featuring two female vocalists. Phil loved the energy of rock and roll, and the audiences, and being in a real working band. But eventually, internal issues ended the Split Second run. Later, Phil was again recruited by Guy Ragland to start a new rock/dance band called Reality Check, where Phil met drummer Ben Butler and bassist Nikki Frank. In 1998, it was time to slow down. "I just couldn't continue the performance schedule anymore. It was time for a break."
Even while playing in rock bands Phil continued to write acoustic material, and after leaving the dance band scene The Blend became his focus. Playing original music was rewarding, and he loved the dynamics of acoustic rock and jazz. "At this point in my musical life, the original material was what mattered. The people I met playing in rock bands, and what I learned from them, all carried over into The Blend Project." And now, with Ben Butler on drums, Nikki Frank on bass guitar and vocals, Robin Simpson Murphy on keyboards and vocals, and Earl Hefley on woodwind instruments, a full and complete sound adds the energy The Blend Project now projects.
From the opening notes of "Sometimes A Storm" the album's title song, one hears that combination of melodic acoustic guitar riffs and lyrical depth that are Phil's hallmarks. "The song is about relationships - I think all these songs are autobiographical, more or less," Phil notes, "But the gift is that we all feel these things at some point in our life, and that connection with the listener is the best part."
Indeed, that feeling of connection is prevalent on "Sometimes A Storm," Phil's 2013 full length album release. "This album is simply an emotional history of my life, but what I realize now is that I'm not alone. We all feel these things." It's that sense of emotion that sweeps through the album, and with the atmospheric keyboards and synthesized strings, shimmering guitars and the warm and steady rhythm section, it's 60 minutes of emotional experience, alive and moving. Phil doesn't just sing songs - he invites you to enter a shared world of love and loss, faith and doubt, and self-searching.
Phil Smith and The Blend Project is currently performing in select venues around Oklahoma City. "With the band, things stay interesting - there's a lot of spontaneous things happening on stage," Phil states. "This group of musicians is the kind of thing I've always searched for." And on "Sometimes A Storm", Phil Smith is playing his songs precisely the way he's always wanted, creating a fully realized album that is the culmination of where he's been and where he's going, and one that is sure to win him the notoriety that is demanded by the depth and quality of his songs.
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