After the buzz of Tom A Smith’s first two singles Wolves and Dragonfly, and his current live gig strategy to fit in as many gigs up and down the land as is humanly possible, there’s plenty of excitement surrounding the release of the 17 year old’s first full E P, the “does what it says on the tin”, EP 1.
I don’t want to add to the heap of expectation on young shoulders, but I fully expect the EP to continue to help Tom’s reputation to ‘fly away’ to greater heights. In terms of expectations and pressure, to be fair, Sunderland based Tom A Smith is well equipped; he has already played on the biggest stages with huge names even before he became a teen.
What impresses me about this EP is its range and sense of determination. I know some reviewers have compared Smith and his track Wolves to the Cure. Not wishing to diss other reviewers (lordy, you will know I have my own moments with weird descriptions) but to my head The Cure were always more passive observers of the world. The kind of people that would comply with instruction and then annoyingly mumble about it under their breath. In Wolves, this particular Smith demands that you listen to him. That’s Smith’s USP; there’s a superpower force around the expression within his vocals and how he can connect. Here Wolves is about how while the government was talking about “freedom” and relaxing covid rules, there were vulnerable people hung out to dry.
Dragonfly is the other “huge” track on the EP, and is perhaps is the song that made people sit up and listen in the first place – Smith wrote it at 14, and there is a youthful higher pitched version of the song available online if you choose to look.
It is telling that actually that earlier version is almost a duplicate of the track on EP 1. The EP was produced by super experienced Larry Hibbitt, and he clearly felt the track was pretty perfect as it was. In fact, Tom told me that Larry Hibbitt didn’t have a massive number of suggestions on the EP tracks. No discredit intended to Hibbitt, it clearly simply meant Tom had a very clear vision for these tracks, and that vision was pretty much spot on.
EP 1 feels a little like Smith’s opportunity to show the world his range of interests and on this telling, the breadth of musical talent is expansive. Boltcutters is a singer – songwriter ballad. Tom says he was going for something of the clarity and sensitivity of someone like Billy Bragg with this track. Again while the vocals are not spat out with a venom like on Wolves, nevertheless, that deep, strong sense of steady, and truth shines through. The track is perfectly balanced with a sweet rolling riff, and a gentle little guitar solo, as Smith explains how close he feels to someone, and how he explores his feelings. This track is a huge power in all of its gentle simplicity.
Convince Yourself is a hard, deep south bluesy track, where Smith channels his inner Hendrix to draw out a guitar god performance. It’s another corner of the musical range that Smith can inhabit. Smith says Hibbitt added a bit of an Arctic Monkey’s vibe to the guitars, which I can agree with. I know this track is a favourite to some listeners, but I think personally I favour lighter Smith or faster Smith, rather than heavy bluesy Smith. That’s not to say I skip over the track; it’s still good, but it’s the track on the EP that doesn’t sing to me personally.
So to close the track is a little gem Crucify Me. It’s another gentle ballad which Smith wrote and produced as a demo, and which made it onto the EP pretty much as is. Its another massive forceful song for me. In its quiet insistence, the hurt in the song is amplified by its simple story telling. It’s tracks like Crucify Me, Boltcutters and Wolves which get me really excited by Smith’s talent; this 17 year old has a knack of cutting through the crap and creating an emotional link to the listener. That’s quite some superpower.
* images taken from the artists social media