Review: Kenny & Amanda Smith – Unbound

Unbound, the seventh CD from Kenny and Amanda Smith, is another fine collection of songs, which would be no surprise to fans of this duo.  For those not yet familiar with them, this treat will urge listeners to seek out K&A’s earlier recordings and perhaps see them at their next (yet unscheduled) performance in our area.  Hopefully they will be on the 2017 Grey Fox roster.

Their common Christian faith and love for bluegrass has paved the way for a fine collection of CD’s and many major festival appearances over the past sixteen years. Since receiving the International Bluegrass Music Association’s prestigious Emerging Artist of the Year award in 2003, they’ve never looked back.

The 1999 and 2000 IBMA Guitar Player Of The Year award winner had played for six years with the Lonesome River Band and subsequently started the Band Of Ruhks with two former band mates, a band that is still very much active today.  He teaches guitar at the Roanoke Bluegrass Weekend series and guitar workshops at IBMA events and at the Wintergrass Academy.

Born in Davisville, West Virginia, Amanda sang in church choirs and at local fairs as a youngster. She started playing guitar in her teen years, and became inspired to sing and play bluegrass through the music of Rhonda Vincent and Alison Krauss.  Amanda met Kenny at a concert where he was playing with the Lonesome River Band. Apparently it was love at first sound, and that led to a marriage made in music. Besides their touring, they lead a workshop together at the Nashville Acoustic Camp.

Their new CD Unbound, released this past September, is the third on their own Farm Boy label. It is their first CD in four years as parenthood has become another blessing in their lives. Included are works from established or emerging song writers with help on various tracks from Wayne Winkle on harmony vocals, Kyle Perkins on bass, Jacob Burleson on mandolin and Justin Jenkins on banjo.

“Preaching My Own Funeral”

The first song, “You Know That I Would” written by Ed Williams, has gotten a lot of airplay and is quickly climbing the bluegrass music charts.  It wouldn’t be surprising if they have another #1 with this song.  Amanda’s clear and pure voice is at it’s best here and her vocal range does fine justice to this selection. The third and title track “<e,>Unbound,” penned by Barry Bales, is a song Amanda says she sings to her one year old daughter Annabelle, who now sings back the word “unbound”!   “Hills Of Logan County”, written by Dennis Duff and Lisa Shaffer is a ballad set during the War Between The States, about a young man and woman who are kept apart by that conflict, but with an unexpected outcome.  The concept and musicality of “Preaching My Own Funeral” written by Barry Bales and Craig Market, featuring Kenny on lead vocal, is one of my personal favorites.  The other one Kenny sings is “Tea Party,” a track with vocals and guitar only, and written by Roger Helton, reveals Kenny’s new-found fondness of fatherhood.  “Every Pilgrim Needs A Highway,” is an inspirational song with some nice guitar work by Kenny.   “Something’s Missing” from Sally Barris, “Reaching Out”  from Elli Lowe, and “I Don’t Want To Fall” from Mark Morton and Jimmy Alan Stewart, all have their unique messages delivered by Amanda’s sweet but strong voice.  The Smith’s have translated “Wherefore And Why,” a Gordon Lightfoot song from the 1960’s, into a nice driving bluegrass song mid-way through this collection.

Unbound is upbeat, yet smooth and flowing, which I think has​ become foremost in Kenny and Amanda Smith’s style. They do not shy away from taking a few chances with their harmonies however, and good results seem to come from that, as well as from their instrumentation, song choices and arrangements. It may leave some folks pondering the continual question of whether or not​ their music is bluegrass, while others won’t​ care​ about that at all.  ​I don’t always know how (or why) to classify the style of a particular artist or group, but I do know what I like, and I really like Unbound.

Farm Boy Records

Garry Moore

Garry Moore was raised in the Watchung hills of New Jersey and began playing folk and bluegrass music at a young age. He attended the University of Kentucky from 1968 to 1973 where he was exposed to real old time fiddle music. He’s been playing for contra dances and shows with various amateur bands for about 35 years and has gone on tour in England as a member of an Appalachian clog dance group. He still works part time in the clock business that he started in 1986. He and his family’s time is split between activities in NJ and in the southern Adirondacks of NY.

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