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A blog for Seattle music lovers of all stripes, from hip-hop and indie rock to jazz and world music.

September 19, 2014 at 5:32 AM

Sam Smith – just a pretty voice? | Concert preview

Sometimes a pop singer can appear to have dropped to Earth with zero backstory, and while this is rarely the case, for Sam Smith, the British vocalist with a lovely tenor voice with a choke in it, and a falsetto he squeezes like lemon on a salad, there is not much story there.

He’s 22 and has one EP and one album to his name, and a few guest-feature spots on other artists’ songs. He is simply a guy with marquee ambition and a hugely expressive instrument, who is massively relatable to a mainstream audience. Maybe his well-meaning blankness is a perfect canvas for mass projection?

Smith has sold out the 2,800-seat Paramount Theatre for his show Thursday, Sept. 25, on the strength of his debut album, “In the Lonely Hour,” which has moved over two million units since being released in May. Built on throwback soul (Smith loves Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse), in many ways it is a slightly hipper and more subdued place holder until the next Adele record comes out.

If you are one of the handful of people who have not heard it, consider starting with antimaterialist jam “Money on My Mind,” which bests Lorde’s and Macklemore’s songs (“Royals” and “Thrift Shop,” respectively) on the same topic. Smith may never make music this good again. But who knows?

Your college-age friends and family members learned about Smith in 2012 on “Latch,” Disclosure’s crossover UK dance smash, or Naughty Boy’s “La La La,” which feature prominent drum tracks like “Money on My Mind” — where Smith sounds his best. Or perhaps you learned about him during his pitch-perfect performance on “Saturday Night Live” back in April. He captivates in the short term because of his voice, but how much depth is there to Smith?

He self-identifies gay, but downplays his sexuality in love songs. He seems to be growing into himself.

However his career plays out (fingers crossed for more dance numbers), he’s got that voice. And assuming it translates well on stage — which reviews say it does and YouTube videos support — Seattle fans should be in for something special.

Between songs, two questions you might ponder: Why are Brits constantly copying American music? Smith is in the tradition of Dusty Springfield, the Rolling Stones, Amy Winehouse and Adele. Can’t the country get into, I don’t know, Brazilian music or something?

Why are we Americans such suckers for nostalgia? Smith barely knows which decade he’s living in (the rapper A$AP Rocky on a remix is a clue). Why don’t we care more about artists with an aesthetic vision for the future, like we did in the ’90s?

Sam Smith

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25, at the Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle; sold out (877-748-4849 or stgpresents.org).

Comments | More in R & B/Hip-hop, Rock/Pop | Topics: "In the Lonely Hour", "Stay With Me", Concert Preview

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