Samuel Frederick Smith was born in London, England but later moved to Great Chishill, near Cambridge. With his soulful talent evident from a young age Sam’s parents encouraged him in his career ambitions and set him up with his own website aged 16, which described him as a “new name to watch”. Yes indeed and he was soon off to the Youth Music Theatre UK where he starred in a 2007 production of “Oh! Carol” a high energy, rock 'n' roll show Inspired by the huge repertoire of Neil Sedaka's songs.
He also has a background as a jazz vocalist. That and his love of musical theatre gave him a technical ability and a discipline that allowed him vocal control and the ability to extend his vocal range. So if all this seems like a far cry from the electro beats and smooth R&B he is now associated with then it should be borne in mind that he’s served a far ranging apprenticeship.
Sam’s debut album is described by him as “his diary” set to song. His thrilling ability to hit falsetto notes and drop back to the deep comes from listening to Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan and R&B/blues greats like Etta James and Aretha Franklin.
Just before the main event the pieces started to come together for Smith when he released his EP Nirvana in 2013. Including the lovely “Safe With Me” (penned with Ben Ash and produced by Two Inch Punch) and an acoustic version of “Latch” this fine set is blessed with “I’ve Told You Now”, a co-write with Eg White recorded live at St Pancras Old Church, and the more experimental title piece. The American version is bolstered with “Together” a collaboration with Nile Rodgers and Jimmy Napes that was an early indication of how seriously Sam Smith was being taken.
In the Lonely Hour dropped in May 2014 and exploded. It was the bomb. Containing the hits “Money on My Mind”, “Stay With Me” and “I’m Not the Only One”, it showcases a young man getting right to the heart of the matter since he wanted to write an album for those who have never been in love – lending a voice to the lonely.
While he succeeds in fulfilling that wish Smith also reaches out to a wider audience. The legends in America were astounded. This guy is English? With this much soul? And that voice? And while we’re proud to have him as our own it is true that in the States he’s being adopted. The Grammies arrived in a deluge at the 57th ceremony: Record of the Year, Song of the Year (“Stay With Me”), Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Album: beating off Coldplay, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, Katy Perry and – another Youth Music Theatre UK alumnus – Ed Sheeran.
Those are the kind of figures that get one noticed and Smith became an overnight sensation, abetted by his marvelously open attitude when it comes to TV and associated media for whom he is a dream and a godsend.
Massive acclaim, huge sales, bags of new fans – all added up to 2014 being pretty much Sam’s year. Back at the album we’d point you towards the standard version and also the Deluxe and Target deluxe edition for bonus material, including the early singles and the Darkchild take on “Stay with Me”, featuring Mary J. Blige.
Firmly heading for pop soul and R&B crossover of the grandest kind, In the Lonely Hour is likely to reach sales of 2 million in the UK any time now and has already notched up over 5 million globally. The accompanying tour has helped spread the word and Australia is the latest territory to fall under Sam Smith’s soulful spell, even though an operation to his vocal chords has necessitated recent surgery and some cancellations. Once he resumes then the tour continues throughout the summer and ends in Grand Prairie, Texas in September 2015.
An icon for gay youth, he has set up a foundation to combat prejudice, Sam Smith is a star for our times. He’s been back in the studio working on new sessions and he is a hot favourite to sing the theme to the next James Bond film, Spectre. Watch this space. Regardless, we are on tenterhooks for his own second album, which we are sure, will sound like only he can.
Words: Max Bell
Disclosure's loping dance-pop single "Latch," a number 11 U.K. hit in 2012, introduced Sam Smith, a London-born vocalist with a deeply emotive voice. Smith grew up listening to R&B giants Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross, and Whitney Houston, but his first impression was unique, not merely for the richness of his voice, but its resoundingly expressive yet naturally delivered manner -- on a level most singers can't match with maximum effort. Early 2013 brought his debut solo single, "Lay Me Down" -- an aching singer/songwriter-soul throwback that scraped the U.K. Top 50. It was quickly eclipsed by a lead role on Naughty Boy's "La La La," a breakbeat-driven tearjerker that went to number one in the U.K. and then reached the Top 20 in the U.S. "Money on My Mind," an upbeat statement of purpose more about the soul than the heart, and "Stay with Me," a torch song with a gospel-inspired chorus, were Smith's second and third solo singles. They preceded the release of In the Lonely Hour, the singer and songwriter's debut album. Those three solo singles are here, along with seven new songs that tend to cast Smith as a heartbroken balladeer. Deep sorrow informs most of the material. Much more about mourning than movement here, Smith is bold for not attempting to capitalize on the Disclosure and Naughty Boy hits. The dominance of stripped-down backdrops -- some with merely piano, acoustic guitar, and conservative strings -- is somewhat surprising. That puts all the more focus on Smith's voice and words, the latter of which switch between borderline maudlin ("What use is money when you need someone to hold?") and disarmingly brazen ("Just leave your lover, leave him for me"). If Smith didn't have such a remarkable voice, he could stay busy composing songs for artists in several genres; the anthemic "Like I Can" could be easily adapted for a contemporary country singer, while a few others could be turned over to young pop artists in need of material that makes them sound more human. This is an understated and promising first step from an unpredictable and distinctive talent.
Words: Andy Kellman