Josh Smith – Burn To Grow | Album Review

Josh Smith – Burn To Grow

VizzTone Label Group VT-JS0010

11 songs – 53 minutes

Guitar maestro Josh Smith has always been inventive in his work, but he goes the extra mile on this one by delivering the feel of one of his live performances even though this CD was recorded within the confines of his new Flat V Studios.

Born in Middletown, Conn., raised in South Florida but based in Los Angeles for the past 16 years, Smith is one of the top innovators on the six-string in the world today, frequently collaborating with other top fret masters, including Kirk Fletcher and Joe Bonamassa, both of whom made guest appearances on one of Josh’s most recent albums.

After emerging as a child prodigy at 13, he and Derek Trucks spent their summers touring the U.S. together before they were old enough to drive. He cut his teeth and developed his skills as a vocalist with two bands – the Rhino Cats and Josh Smith And The Frost, producing four albums before graduating from high school and heading West at age 23.

Once in L.A., he quickly hooked up with Virgin recording artist Ricky Fante for two years before serving long stints as lead guitarist for former American Idol winner Taylor Hicks then old-school R&B star Raphael Saadiq when not touring on his own. He’s also backed Mick Jagger at both the Kennedy Center Honors and the Grammy Awards.

This all-original CD — the 10th in his catalog — mixes blues, jazz, rock and soul into a cohesive package. The structure for all of the material remains stellar even though Smith and all of the musicians involved improvised their parts as they went along.

He’s backed here by an all-star lineup of sidemen, including Travis Carlton and Davey Faragher on bass, Lemar Carter and Pete Thomas on drums, Carey Frank on organ and a horn section composed of Jamelle Adisa (trumpet and flugelhorn), Chris Johnson and J.P. Floyd (trombone), and Matthew DeMerritt and Dan Boisey (saxes). Grammy winner Monet Owens – who’s worked with Boz Scaggs, Celine Dion, Queen Latifah and Michael McDonald — sings lead on one tune and provides all background vocals throughout.

Almost all of the songs here are fluff-free and have themes that delve into intimate human relationships. And while Smith’s most recent releases have appealed more to his European audience — folks with a big love for blues-rock –this one should appeal to traditionalists who desire substance over shredding, something Josh has always done with the utmost taste and control.

A bare-bones bass line opens “Half Blues,” which explodes instantaneously when the horns and guitar kick in. A slow and steady burner, it finds Josh in a situation where the woman he loves is now running hot and cold and has broken her vow never to leave him. Smith’s single-note runs mid-tune are deep and dazzling, and his vocals have never been stronger.

“Through The Night,” which has a breezy, upbeat jazz feel, continues the message. In this one, the lady’s not looking for something that lasts, but simply a body to keep her warm till dawn. “Watching You Go” comes across with a heavier funk feel as Josh finds himself looking back and wondering if he ever cared as realizes he no longer needs the lady as she makes her exit. His fretwork here comes with a bite.

The mood brightens with “That For You Too,” a horn-driven number in which the singer realizes how much his life changed for the good the second the woman entered his life. The next number – the stop-time “Your Love (Is Making Me Whole)” – is delivered from the lady’s point of view with Owens handling the soulful vocals. The tender ballad “Look No Further” and the soul-blues “Let Me Take Care Of You” continue the message, as does the searing blues, “What We Need.”

The emotional whirlpool continues, however. The medium-fast “You Never Knew” offers up a plea to the lady, who’s splitting once again, to open her eyes and realize that she’ll never find anyone who cares as much while the ballad “She Survives” offers up hope and the closer, “Burn To Grow,” plants the seeds for a positive outcome.

Available through most major retailers, Burn To Grow is head-and-shoulders Josh Smith’s best album yet – a well-conceived treasure of emotions. Pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.

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