In putting together his new album One House, Blue Grass, Iowa-based David G. Smith "ended up with 10 issues-oriented songs," he said in an interview last week.
This was a bit of an accident. Smith - who will be celebrating the album's release with a May 17 show at the Redstone Room - said he brought 21 songs to producer Blue Miller and "figured we'd find an album out of that. ... We ended up recording two albums. ... We've got another one on deck. It's already been mastered."
And when Smith considered which songs to put on which album, One House's 10 tracks seemed to naturally go together in the order they appear.
The title track asks the question "Can we live in one house built on higher ground?" "Ivory" deals with the illegal trade of elephant tusks. "Jesus Is in Prison" is about a death-row inmate. "Angels Flew" tells the story of a boat lift rescuing people on 9/11. "Doesn't Take Much Light" and "Ariel" are specific narratives based on real people - with Parkinson's disease and the extremely rare Rett syndrome, respectively. (The River Music Experience concert is also a platform to raise money for the latter illness.)
It's a heavy collection, and for some tastes it will likely be too on-the-nose, even though it's rarely preachy - which Smith called "the mortal sin of songwriting": "It's a supreme challenge to try to write something that will strike a chord with people and at least make them pause and maybe think a little bit."
The subject matter and directness are countered by folk arrangements that are thoughtful and evocative, but more importantly the album - Smith's second studio effort - is also filled with hope, conviction, earnest heart, and lovely turns of phrase that elevate it. Smith is at his best finding unexpected light in the darkness.