With only a handful of previous recordings to his credit, Texan Holland K. Smith has never really made much of a mark outside his home state. Here, on Cobalt, he enlists old friend Anson Funderburgh as producer – Funderburgh also contributes guitar on a track – on a varied set seemingly designed to showcase his versatility.
And versatile Smith is indeed, ranging far and wide from the obvious Texas shuffles (“Love Liquidation,” and “Just One Heartache”) to flat-out rock and roll (“The Itch”) and even old-timey ballads with dollops of doo-wop (the somewhat surprising “Magic Wand”). He handles bold and brassy R&B (“Any Other Way” and the gospel-inflected “Little Bit of Faith”) with assured aplomb and shows a jazzy touch on both the title track and the shimmery, simmering “Never Got the Blues.” And there’s a distinctly Latin vibe to both “End of the Darkness” and “Olhos Verdes (Green Eyes),” the two tunes that bring the collection to a close.
Smith takes it all in stride – he’s not a particularly powerful vocalist, but his relaxed, laconic approach fits each tune nicely, and his extensive experience is obvious in the disarming ease with which he gets his message across. The band is excellent, with appearances from a handful of Lone Star stalwarts (Wes Starr, Ronnie James Webber, and Gentleman John Street, who engineered things and handled the keys throughout).
A project as diverse as this risks feeling less than cohesive – more sampler than collection – but Smith holds things together admirably, and despite the variety, Cobalt flows organically from beginning to end. It’s an excellent summation of Smith’s wide-ranging tastes and consummately professional skills.Powered by Sidelines