The Smiths seek to "Tell Someone" – January 2007
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The Smiths seek to "Tell Someone"  Print

By Rick Bell, January 2007

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The friendship is special as well and actually predates the first time the two met. "This is really special for me," Amanda says. "When I was 15 years old, this little old man at our church gave me a tape of a group he saw. He told me, 'You might like this.' Well, I loved it."

It wasn't until Smith was well out of high school that she discovered who was on the cassette, which was devoid of any information on the artist or the songs. Amanda saw Rhonda Vincent with the Sally Mountain Show when it began to click.

"I never knew who was on that tape," she says. "But then the songs started sounding familiar, and I realized who it was. I've never told her that story. We don't get to spend a lot of time together when we see each other." Amanda had never heard bluegrass before getting a hold of Krauss' landmark album "Every Time You Say Goodbye." She'd listened to gospel and classic country singers and really liked Tammy Wynette.

"I lover her singing too," Amanda says. "It's the same thing with her. They've all been influences on me, but I haven't tried to copy anyone. My style just developed naturally."

Though "Tell Someone" is their third album with Rebel, it's something of a departure for the longtime Charlottesville, Va., bluegrass label. Indeed, artists have performed gospel in the past, but not in this style or tone, Kenny says.

"Rebel was very supportive, of us, and supportive of us doing gospel music," he says. "We wanted to go further than bluegrass."

Both Rebel and the Smiths felt it would fit into contemporary Christian formats as well, and they're touting "I Know Why" as the gospel single. Gospel still receives a lot of airplay in the Southeast, he says, particularly near their home in southwest Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

"It's the Bible belt," he says. "There's a lot of activity here, a lot of events. We feel lucky to have so many stations playing it."

Galax's WBRF-FM 98.1, which is a classic country station by day, then morphs into a bluegrass station at night, also hosts a gospel hour, he says.

"The stations have the album by now," he says. "So far, everyone loves it. The feedback has been really positive."

Kenny notes he likes to record with a live feel. Amanda performed scratch vocals for the lead parts on "Some Time," but all the music was recorded at the same time.

"Our approach is, if we don't like it we can go back in and rework it," he says. "'Shoutin' Time' isn't the perfect cut, but it has a feeling and energy that can't be replaced if you were to rework certain parts. A song has to move you in some way. You can be too perfect, and a lot of times the song loses its emotion."

The inspiration comes from an unlikely source - at least for a veteran bluegrass performer like Kenny Smith.

"Our favorite is the live stuff of Buck Owens," he says. "He had several live albums. It has a feeling you can't describe. It's something we really like."

Having so much say over the album's direction and material didn't come easy. After leaving Lonesome River Band to form Kenny and Amanda Smith, times got tough for the couple.

"So many times when you start a new group, it's hard at first," he says. "It's like you're starting over. Promoters want you to prove yourself before they'll start booking you. It's kind of frustrating at first."

Not to mention financially binding.

"We wanted to develop a unique sound, and our material didn't fit into everyone's idea of what we should sound like," he says. "There were times we were down to our last dime. Then we'd get a check in the mail because someone had bought our CD. It kept us going. We'd pray that we'd made the right choice."

Bluegrass veteran Doyle Lawson offered some advice, Kenny says. It took him a long time to get to where he is today, and it may take that long for the Smiths to achieve such a level.

It may take a lifetime to master the vocals and instrument, he says, and having that kind of patience and vision is what Kenny wants to impress on younger performers.

Though Kenny and Amanda both are deeply religious, spreading the message is subtle during their live show, Kenny says.

"It's not an outward thing; we like to minister through our actions," he says. "A lot of my heroes turned out to be zeros. The thing we portray to our younger guys in the group is that hey, you can make a living and like what you're doing."

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