One of bluegrass music’s favorite couples is Kenny and Amanda Smith. The two have been making music together now for going on two decades, and they’ve racked up an impressive slate of IBMA and SPBGMA nominations and awards over the year. The pair has recently released a new album, With You, filled with the classy performances and tasteful melodies fans always enjoy.
Joining Kenny and Amanda on this outing is a top-notch crew of musicians. In addition to Kenny on guitar, the album features Cory Piatt on mandolin, Kyle Perkins on bass, and Justin Jenkins on banjo. The band’s bluegrass chops are probably best shown on Gary Brewer’s Johnson City Blues, one of the album’s more uptempo numbers. It’s an enjoyable, well-written number about a man thinking back on his past that’s sure to have audiences tapping their feet and singing along. Hit single Too Often Left Alone also has a nice quick beat, with some hot picking from Kenny and Piatt and earnest, forceful vocals from Amanda. Radio listeners have loved this one, with it hitting #1 back in January.
Kenny and Amanda’s music often has gentle, rolling melodies thanks to Kenny’s guitar playing, and this album is no different. I’ve Not Forgotten You, a midtempo number with plaintive vocals from Kenny and a bit of bounce to the music, tells of a man who can’t forget an old love even though the woman has moved on. It Takes a Lot of You for Me has a similar bouncy feel, though it’s a bit more cheerful, featuring Amanda declaring “I’ve finally found what I was looking for, and it’s gonna take a whole lot of you for me.”
Amanda was named IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 2014, and her lead vocals on several songs here definitely reaffirm that choice. I Wish You Loved Me is a slow, country-influenced tear-jerker, with a stripped-down arrangement. Amanda fills the lyrics with emotion, singing lines like “I wish this whiskey didn’t burn like your memory, and I wish you loved me as much as you don’t,” with a bitter tear in her voice. Like a Shadow is another song where Amanda’s voice takes center-stage. This peaceful Gospel song has more of a contemporary Christian sound than it does bluegrass, but it’s a lovely and powerful song.
How Many Rivers fits into one of my favorite bluegrass categories, the happy-sounding sad song. The melody is cheery and light, but the lyrics find a woman wondering how many tears she’ll end up shedding for a man who’s left her alone. Also enjoyable is Norman Rockwell World, name-dropping the famous American painter whose scenes often captured everyday life. The song’s message is a familiar one in bluegrass music, a modern-day person longing for the slower, easier life of days gone by. Images such as a Radio Flyers, a barbershop on the square, and rocking chairs on the front porch help bring the song to life.
Fans of Kenny and Amanda Smith should find much to enjoy on this album. Their signature sounds are present throughout, and the music and vocals are both of the highest level. It’s available now from their website.