Valerie Smith is known in the bluegrass world as both a premier vocalist and songwriter. On her newest release, Renaissance, Smith has given us a collection of songs that focus on varying life themes, such as love, regret, and acceptance.
While several of the tracks were recorded with Valerie’s touring band, Liberty Pike, Smith utilized an incredible array of talent on this project, such as Andy Leftwich, Stephen Burwell, Bob Minner, Cody Kilby, Rob Ickes, Donna Ulisse, and Jerry Salley, among many others. Having different configurations of musicians and vocalists on each song was one of the elements that made Renaissance an enjoyable listening experience. Because each participant has their own style and approach, there’s not an ounce of monotony to be found here.
Although Valerie Smith is recognized for her exceptional songwriting, she only wrote two of this album’s fourteen songs. I’m Fine Bein’ Me is centered around coming to a place of self-worth in one’s individual life path. A Dollar Looked Mighty Good, co-written with Ashley Lewis, is a powerful composition which tells the true story of Smith’s great grandmother, Maggie Brooks, who escaped a violent marriage and ultimately became a successful businesswoman in Plattsburgh, MO. This song in particular does a marvelous job of conveying the sense of pride and accomplishment that a person can experience.
Like the abundant cast of musicians on Renaissance, the majority of the tracks were written by a host of different songwriters. On That Train by Jude Johnstone is a song that captures the feeling of regret in an astute manner. Dancin’ With the Stars, co-written by David Lauver, Bobby Johnston, and Jerry Salley, is a composition that displays the sense of contentment, love and, carefreeness wonderfully. The Great I Am, written by Pastor Mike Lane, is a cheery Gospel song which pairs Valerie Smith with the McCrary sisters, adding even greater variety to this diverse project. With each of these aforementioned songs, Smith interprets them in her own captivating manner.
Renaissance is a recording which explores emotions that more than likely we have all experienced, such as joy, sorrow, and hope. Emotionally speaking, you won’t be able to stay in one place too long as you’re listening.
Bluegrass radio personality Steve Martin summed it up best in the opening paragraph of the liner notes, “Renaissance is humanity in songs.” Though this project largely relates to Valerie Smith’s life journey, it can definitely hit home for any listener regardless of their personal background or life circumstances.