Black Music Matters Festival

Kenny and Amanda Smith

Live and Learn – 2008 (Rebel)

Reviewed by C. Eric Banister

See it on Amazon

CDs by Kenny and Amanda Smith

This is a bit of a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that Amanda Smith's voice is still one of the sweetest and best in bluegrass today. Hovering in the Rhonda Vincent vein of modern female singers she is equaling convincing singing the lost-love tale of Drive That Fast," the silver dagger tale of "Cruel Willie" and standout track "Heartbreak Express."

The bad news is that, after the enthusiastic "Tell Somebody" album of last year, the album doesn't stand out among the contemporary bluegrass crowd. There is just nothing particularly exciting. Another, albeit small, disappointment is the lack of guitar work by Kenny Smith. Although he is one of the best guitarists in bluegrass he seems more content here to take a backseat to Amanda's voice, which is well and good, but not even one standout guitar solo can be found. His voice is pleasant enough on the few tunes he puts his lead vocal on.

There are good songs and performances, but anyone looking for the upbeat enthusiasm of their 2007 all-gospel release unfortunately won't find it here.