John Adam Smith has spent most of his adult life performing around Missoula, both as a solo act and in various bands, with almost no recorded material to show for it. But music often can be like a fine wine: flavors get crisper and the intricacies of the recipe become more apparent with age. Over the years, Smith matured from a formative singer-songwriter to a thoughtful lyricist and proficient multi-instrumentalist, and his first record, Ponderosa Skies, is a testament to the time spent honing his world-folk style in a live setting. Fifteen years in the making, it sounds right on time.
Smith wears his influences on his sleeve on this album, and echoes of Xavier Rudd and John Butler are prevalent. It's no surprise that he spent a month touring Australia last year, where so many of his influences seem to originate. He also incorporates western folk in his compositions, though, and his lyrics often embody his native Montana upbringing. The focus of the songs on Ponderosa Skies maintain an introspective, meditative quality, delivered in Smith's vulnerable singing style. Much of the instrumentation is subtle; drifting vocal melodies intertwined with slide guitar lines that flicker across the pulse of a bass drum and background keys. The relaxed vibe of tracks like "Old Birch Tree" is pleasant, but when the thumping roots-rocker "Believe" and slithering acoustic funk of "City Bird" finally pop up, they make you wish more of the album delivered that simmering energy. Still, Skies is an impressive and thoroughly enjoyable debut, and hopefully it serves as an indicator of what's on the horizon for this talented musician.
The John Adam Smith Band plays an album release show at the Top Hat Thu., June 6, at 9:30 PM. Free.