Catch Me If I Try – Kenny & Amanda Smith

Catch Me If I Try - Kenny & Amanda SmithThere are few things in bluegrass I anticipate with quite the same enthusiasm as a new project from Kenny & Amanda Smith. I suppose I should admit that bias right up front.

And I have not yet been disappointed by what this talented duo brings forward, each time a new record drops.

Catch Me If I Try, independently released in November 2012, shows Kenny and Amanda in fine form. Amanda’s singing has never sounded better, demonstrating not only the lovely sound of her voice, but also her skill, expressiveness, and ability to jump over her break with ease. Kenny’s guitar work continues to be a marvel. The band is built around his rhythm, with bass, mandolin and banjo serving secondary roles.

These two also have an uncanny knack for finding great songs, ones that suit their unique skills and strengths, and fit perfectly within the stylistic boundaries they have established for their music, a place where bluegrass, contemporary Christian, and country music converge.

The 14 tracks here come from some writers that will be familiar to bluegrass audience. John Pennell and Bryan Simpson contribute Blinded By You, the opening track which echoes some of Pennell’s songs for Alison Krauss, as well as Smith’s for Cadillac Sky. Simply lovely.

Equally strong is Run Away Boys from Tim Stafford and Bobby Starnes, a reworking of the old time melody for Reuben’s Train, and When Tears Come Falling, a lovely ballad that serves as the closing track, written by G2’s Christoffer Olsson.

The title track is a beautiful song from David Patrick Wilcox, telling of that familiar combination of the excitement of new love, together with the fear of becoming vulnerable to heartbreak. That same theme is explored in Some Days I Live On That, written by Kenny along with Jon Weisberger, and many listeners will recognize The Birmingham Turnaround, which had been memorably cut by both Rhonda Vincent and Keith Whitley.

In truth, there isn’t a weak cut on this record. It’s a treat from start to finish and a testament to the vision and talents of this stellar husband/wife team. Everything from the arrangements, to the audio quality, to the sequencing are spot on.

One divergence from previous K&A records is the fact that Amanda sings all 14 songs, keeping Kenny on guitar and harmony vocals. She said that she encouraged him to sing a couple, but that he wanted her voice out front. Former bandmate Alan Bartram reprises his role as the third voice in their trio, and the vocal parts are perfectly integrated throughout.

Providing accompaniment in the studio were regular band members Austin Ward on bass and Cory Piatt on mandolin, two outstanding young pickers with a great future in the music. Ron Stewart guests on banjo, as he did on the Smith’s last album, and adapts his typically aggressive style for their more restrained sound like it was all he ever plays. Well done, sir.

Kenny & Amanda SmithAs an interesting aside, the fates had conspired in such a way that I have heard their last two records for the first time sitting with Kenny and Amanda. When their prior album, Live And Learn, was completed in 2008, I happened to be with them in the studio where Kenny was providing guitar for an AcuTab instructional video. Amanda had ridden along, and they had the unmastered mixes with them. We all sat in the control room and listened to the music, and got to enjoy their comments about each song as they played.

This past World Of Bluegrass convention in Nashville, they had just completed the mixing for Catch Me If I Try, and Kenny wanted to share the new music with me on the convention floor. There we were, both of us with ears pushed up against Kenny’s iPhone, and him pointing out the spots that he thought were really cool. That must have been a sight!

If there is justice in the universe, Catch Me If I Try has to be in the forefront for Album of The Year from IBMA in 2013. It’s hard to comprehend any other project being much better.

It is available from Kenny and Amanda’s web site, in iTunes and from other online resellers.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.