Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
ife's been very good for 23-year-old Conner Smith. The Nashville native has his first full-length disc coming out on Jan. 26. He has a single – "Creeks Will Rise" – that's in the top 20 on the charts, his first one ever. And the baseball-hatted singer is now touring behind music past and very near future with a sold-out crowd tonight and lots of help on the vocal front from an overwhelmingly young female crowd.
Smith professes to be an artist with authenticity, and that pretty much rang true in concert. He sang a good amount about the South – such as in the opening "Smoky Mountains' and his new single, "Meanwhile in Carolina" – but it's not the hot chick, Silverado, chugging beers scenario. There's a bit more depth than that with Smith.
There's a relatability to Smith in songs such as the crowd pleasing "Somewhere in a Smalltown" about a young couple getting together. He also engaged with the crowd, moving all over the stage to connect with all sides of the 930-person capacity venue. At one point, he left the stage and bounded up the stairs to the second floor.
In what seems to be a thing these days at least among new country artists, there's a lot of rivalry morphing into relationship-type songs - when it comes to rival Southeastern Conference schools anyway. Megan Moroney has the best known with the excellent megahit "Tennessee Orange," but Smith has a few of his own in "Orange & White," which rocked, and "I Hate Alabama," a contemporary take that will not go over very well among Red Tide nation. But it sure did in Boston with the crowd singing along with gusto. (Opening act Lauren Watkins has a song "Ole Miss," which she didn't sing).
Smith rocked more for the first half of the show where the songs did not always resonate. Some bordered on the generic side. Smith may not be the most dynamic singer either even if he does deliver with believability.
Smith relied on a bunch of covers throughout – the first verse of Travis Tritt's "Great Day to Be Alive" before launching into how life is in "College Town" (Smith can't speak from experience since he did not attend college). But the tone and tempo all changed for the second half when Smith and his high school best bud Hunter Cranford sat down on stools to play a few covers and an original.
Smith offered a few songs from some of his touring mentors – "Rain is a Good Thing" from Luke Bryan and "Give Me Some of That" and later "Die a Happy Man" from Thomas Rhett with the latter especially fitting his style.
With the songs stripped down, Smith was much more country at this point with a few of the aforementioned covers along with Eric Church's "Talladega" and particularly Jamie Johnson's "In Color," his best cover of the night. Give Smith credit for at least covering songs that were considered country unlike some country artists, who are more than happy to rock out on covers.
At some level, Smith may have leaned a bit too much into covers as 7 of the 21 songs were covers. A few more of his own would have been welcome.
The country bent would continue with his take on the nicely done Alabama song "Dixieland Delight" and closing the regular set with his own fast-paced "Creek Don't Rise," a keeper.
This marked the first concert during the tour in which Smith did an encore, closing with "Feathered Indians." He obviously was satisfied himself.
At this point in his fledgling career, Smith has enough quality material to carry him through along with an earnestness. He still may be finding and developing his own voice, but with shows like this, Smith is riding high.
Watkins had a strong set of her own. She benefitted for all of her nearly 40 minutes in what Smith did for part of his – stripping it down as she had a lone acoustic guitarist with her onstage.
Watkins, also a Nashville native, is much more of a country traditionalist than the headliner. While Watkins said she liked all sorts of country from Hank Sr. to contemporary, one suspects that her heart is on the traditional side.
She showed her bona fides with "Cowboys on Music Row," an ode to the Outlaw Country artists. As if to cover herself, Watkins told the crowd that she was not knocking the new artists since she's one of them also. No apologies needed. One could imagine Kacey Musgraves easily covering the song if she wanted a straight country song.
Watkins writes a lot about being jilted, but, hey, sad times make for excellent songs, like "Dark Places" (with the repeating line "Since you've been gone, dark places are the only places I go"), "Jealous of Jane" and the closing "Sleeping My Makeup." And her cover of Jason Aldean's "Amarillo Sky" worked well within the context of her set.
With her second show in Boston in 11 months, Watkins, once again, showed herself to be an artist of much promise.