“The Broken Record” represents the next step in the evolution of Corey Smith that began with “Keeping Up with the Joneses”. Like all of us, Smith has grown; he’s matured both as a person and as an artist. Here, through a mix of new songs and reimagined tracks from previous albums, we are invited on a tour of the journey from where he started to where he finds himself today. It’s an arc that will generate knowing nods from anyone grappling with a moment of reflection in their life. It’s also a damn good record.
This album has a different sound from much of what Corey has done in the past. More robust, more polished, and more lush; it’s a record made with an ear towards a broader audience. It’s not the same Corey Smith you heard on “Undertones” – but it’s still Corey Smith. It’s that growth that may catch some longtime fans by surprise, and an issue that he addresses head-on with the intro to the album:
A man on the edge, I can’t take anymore
Here’s the broken record you’ve been askin’ for.
Over and over, I feel kinda strange,
Nothin’s different here, but everything’s changed…
As I mentioned, the album contains updated versions of some previous songs – five to be exact. There are sure to be those who prefer the originals, but the process of updating the tracks fits perfectly with the underlying themes of the album. This is a conversation with his audience about change. About growing up. About standing at the crossroads and simultaneously looking back while looking forward. Who you are is determined by where you’ve been, but who you were is not always who you are going to be. People change and songs change – both hopefully for the better.
“The Broken Record” should be the album that brings Corey Smith the national attention he so richly deserves. I’m not one who automatically hears the word “mainstream” as a slur. For new fans or old fans, Corey Smith is an honest songwriter with an authentic writing voice, who is determined to define his own path and decide for himself what constitutes happiness. With this release, he’s asking that you stay along for the ride and allow him to continue to grow. You can’t continue to only sing songs about being drunk on the beach forever. Well – I guess you can; but that’s not the road Corey Smith has decided to take. Don’t forget where you’ve come from, but don’t ignore where you are going. I, for one, am still on board for the ride with Corey’s music. You should be too.
If I Could Do It Again
“If I Could Do It Again” was originally released on the 2005 album “The Good Life”. Like most of the updated tracks, it benefits from a more lush instrumentation that serves to fill out the song. It offers a look back at the indiscretions of a misspent youth, while making no apologies for the fun that was had and mistakes that were made. As a starting point for the album, it makes a strong statement about the past and its vital role in making us who we are. Looking back with no regrets at a time in life when we all had limited responsibilities and unlimited potential, the song provides the perfect foundation on which to build the album.
Also from “The Good Life”, “Carolina” gets an updated treatment as well. I really like this updated arrangement better. Go back and listen to the original recording and you will hear how much Corey’s voice has ripened, becoming something unique and instantly recognizable. The original is still a great song (one of my sister-in-law’s favorites, by the way), but this version has a bit more “Corey-ness” to it. “Carolina” looks back at the beginnings of first love, and the innocence and wonder it brings.
I don’t want to let it go. No, no. Now I feel too far away.
I Love Everyone
“I Love Everyone” will be very familiar to anyone who’s seen Corey perform live. He’s done it at his shows for years, and now releases a studio version of it for the first time. It’s a tongue in cheek, yet pointed, exploration of the stereotypical view of Southerners. Funny and insightful, it deals with how Southerners are perceived as different, but finds the truth in those things that ultimately tie all of us together. He says it best towards the end of the song:
It ain’t the cornbread or the collard greens, sweet tea or barbeque, the country music on the stereo or the Gospel in the pew. It ain’t your boots. It ain’t your old blue jeans, the tractors that we drive. It ain’t the rifles or the fishing poles or the slower pace of life. It’s how we treat our neighbors, treat our neighbors, that makes us who we are.
The song is always a hit when Corey performs it live, and it’s great to have a studio version for everyone to enjoy now.
No Way (Out With A Smile)
This is a song that sounds like it was written to be performed in an old-time saloon. It’s got a lilting, drunken quality that was odd to me at first, but has grown on me. It’s a complicated song, and hard to pin down. As the first truly new song on the album, it gives listeners a good taste of where Corey is at musically. When taken as part of the entire album and the journey it represents, this is Corey putting his stake in the ground for living by his definition of happiness. There are no ends to the people who want to define the road for you in life. In this song, Corey very clearly chooses to define the road for himself:
Dress me in a shade of gray and pay the man who digs my grave. This fat man’s going out with a smile. Throw me the Bible, we’ll go on like this for days. Yeah, I can use the scripture too. I can’t be certain of exactly what it says, but neither can you.
This theme of looking within yourself for the answers is one that comes back around more than a few times on the rest of the album. It’s about deciding to live life on your own terms and find your own happiness. It’s also about not letting others take that away from you.
A natural extension of the sentiments found in “No Way (Out With a Smile)”, “Heart Attack” is easily the deepest and most complex song on the album. With a bit of an Oak Ridge Boys undertone (trust me, it’s there), and a dash of Lyle Lovett, the song takes a serious look at the nature of faith and the inherent unknowns we face every day.
In the song, Corey contrasts his views with those of a more traditional spiritual mentor. He talks about their differing views on what is and isn’t the path to Heaven, summing it up with one of my favorite lines on the whole album:
…though we marvel at the Maker through different color windowpanes.
The song deals with the insecurities we all face at times with matters of faith, and how ultimately there is no way to know who’s right until the we get there:
“There’s east-west. It’s anybody’s guess who’s damned, who’s blessed, or more wicked than the rest. Oh, the answers are a heart attack away.”
What it sure is this – we each get to choose our own path. As he made clear in “No Way (Out With A Smile)”, we all have to take responsibility for making our own way through the world, for our own faith, and our own happiness.
The title track of the album is Corey’s take on the business and life he’s chosen. It starts off with people offering their advice about “what this record needs”. A cacophony of voices builds until Cory lets loose a scream, silencing them all, then dropping the downbeat on the song.
For me, this was Corey’s take on “Turn the Page”, “Dead or Alive”, or “God Knows Why”. Following a singer from a “moonlight tour”, to a “night club tour”, to a “stadium tour”, it’s a bit of a cautionary tale about losing the heart and passion in what you’re doing. It’s always a strange dichotomy between artistic expression and commercial success. On the way up, all you want to do is get to the top – then when you get there, you find your freedom has been sacrificed on the altar of success. “Be careful what you wish for” as the saying goes.
It is also a rumination on the conflict between building a fan base that supports you, but doesn’t allow you to stretch and grow as an artist. Even this album has had its detractors among longtime Corey Smith fans. Those are the ones who helped pay the mortgage all these years. You want to keep them happy, but you also have to continue to grow and evolve as an artist.
I’m a broken record. I’m a broken record. I’m a broken record. I’m a broken record. Come listen to the caged bird sing.
Every album is not going to sound the same, and success can be a cruel and demanding mistress. The audience wants what the audience wants, but so does the artistic muse. This song is Corey’s way of expressing that dissonance.
Maybe Next Year
“Maybe Next Year” was originally released on 2007’s “Hard-Headed Fool”. It’s a song that deals with the reflection point we all reach in life, the moment when we begin realize we need to start the process of growing up – but then still find a way, or an excuse, to put it off for another year. It starts off cataloging some of the more “enjoyable” aspects of refusing to grow up – hanging out with your rowdy friends, getting drunk, dressing like a slob. But, as the song progresses, a more self-aware voice begins to assert itself and the reflection becomes a bit more pointed and personal.
Maybe next year I won’t be singing the blues, maybe next year I’ll start telling the truth. Maybe next year I won’t stay drunk all the time, maybe next year I’ll have a little more peace of mind. Maybe next year I won’t be so sad when I’m alone…
This awareness of what’s really important in life, and the acceptance that things will, indeed, need to change one day, is what paves the road that leads to the end of the album. But, we’ll get there soon enough.
This is one of the more light-hearted and fun songs on the album. It’s got an infectious shuffle and sense of urgency that perfectly compliments the slightly off-color hook. No talk of growing up, the future, or the afterlife – just a man trying to convince his woman to have a little fun. Well, maybe more than just a little fun. I can’t put it any better than the song itself does -
Let’s make a reckless memory.
With every listen I’ve given it, “New Day” has slowly become one of my favorite tracks on the album. It’s a very subtle song whose ambience and soul puts me somehow in the mind of Kenny Loggins’ “House at Pooh Corner” (with just a flavor of Bruce Hornsby thrown in towards the end). Taken with “Maybe Next Year”, you could almost imagine this song as day 366 of a man’s yearlong transformation. It talks of embracing the future and taking responsibility for your own happiness:
No more waiting on the Promised Land, we’re gonna build this mansion with our own two hands.
You’ll again hear echoes of the desire to find one’s own path and define one’s own happiness found in “Heart Attack” and “No Way (Out With a Smile)”. “New Day” is a transformational song that rings with an authenticity that comes only from having learned to live your life – not watch it pass you by.
This is a curious little song. With a somewhat cynical, but accurate view on the world, it provides a sly commentary on politics and throws down more than a few wry observations about the dog-eat-dog, “whose side are you on” nature of the world. All of that is wrapped up in a happy sounding song that, for the life of me, always makes me think of Schoolhouse Rock. Listen to the track and you’ll hear what I mean. Let’s call it a Saturday morning educational experience for adults. Let’s also call it great fun.
When Corey released his updated version of “Twenty-One” as the first single from this album, I wrote up a full review of the song. It’s still one of my favorite Corey Smith songs, and has only gotten better with this new recording. (It’s also become one of my 10 year-old son’s favorite songs to sing in the car.) You can read my full thoughts on the song here.
Something To Lose
“Something to Lose” was originally released on the “In the Mood” album in 2004. It, like “Twenty-One”, really benefits from an update. The original is a great song that has a distinct Georgia-flavored acoustic sound instantly recognizable to anyone who’s ever seen a show at Eddie’s Attic or the Georgia Theater. In this version, I can again hear more of that distinctive Corey Smith inflection and tone.
The song itself still packs the same resonance for anyone who remembers that first date with someone – when you realized you had the potential for something. It’s all of the insecurities, the hopes for the future, and the abject fear that comes with putting yourself out there for someone emotionally – and realizing that rejection would mean devastation. It’s been many, many years since I found my soul mate, but this song always takes me back to that single moment with her when I realized – if she doesn’t love me back, I don’t know what I’ll do.
Down To Earth
This is one of the more intriguing songs on the album. It takes on big issues like our propensity as a society to build people up, only to tear them down. It deals with conflict found in imperfect people trying to live a more perfect life. It deconstructs the divisiveness fostered by politicians trying to keep us all in nicely labeled groups. And in the end, it accepts that in some ways, it’s never going to make sense – we’re never going to reach that more perfect life while down here on earth:
What we do is far from what we ought to. It’s me, it’s you. Yeah, human is human.
With “Silly”, Corey brings “The Broken Record” full circle and to a perfect conclusion. With shades of Randy Newman, it’s a song that feels like it would be perfectly at home as part of a movie montage (think – the opening credits for “Toy Story 7”).
It examines a dichotomy experienced by all of us entering (or firmly at home in) middle age. You’ve reached the pinnacle you’ve strived so hard to achieve – adulthood – only to realize how much you long for the innocence of your childhood. You have the joy of seeing the world again through your children’s eyes, but the melancholy in seeing how much your own perspective has changed. You realize you don’t have all, or maybe even any, of the answers. You also realized that the world was in many ways a better place when you didn’t even know what the questions where.
Who are we to be so bold, to think we’re as wise as we are old? The more I see here, the more I’m certain I’m blind.
In the end, it’s recapturing some of that innocence that leads to happiness. It’s understanding that often you just won’t have the answers – and that’s okay. It’s learning to trust that there’s something and someone bigger than yourself, and that sometimes it’s okay to let go of your concerns and just enjoy life.
Well, I’ve read a lot of books. You know I took a lot of class: philosophy, religion, sociology. I’m a Presidential Scholar. I’ve got a Presidential seal on the degree collecting dust down in the basement. But I’m giving up the search. I’m going back to church. Give me Law, give me Scripture, give me Jesus.
Oh, I wanna giggle like the children, be silly for a while, silly like the fools we are. Come on, let’s giggle like the children. Children’s all we are. Let’s be silly like the fools we are.
You can find Corey Smith online at – www.coreysmith.com
You can find Corey Smith on Facebook at – www.facebook.com/home.php#!/coreysmithmusic
You can find Corey Smith on Twitter at – twitter.com/#!/coreysmithmusic
© 2011, The Word Zombie. All rights reserved.