Add Real by Jake Smith to the list of strong debuts on Rocketown Records. Formed in 1996 by Michael W. Smith and Don Donahue, the label has been responsible for the first recordings of Chris Rice, Ginny Owens, Watermark, and Alathea plus some other excellent albums, including Exodus, the worship project that became their best-selling title. This small family-like label has a knack for finding and introducing great talent.
This is equally true on Smith's impressive offering where he seamlessly fuses a variety of styles (rap, funk, blues, pop, rock, soul) into what the label calls soulful, groove-based pop. It's an apt description for this New Orleans native who turns tight arrangements, polished production and smooth vocals into a sound of his own that exudes energy and plenty of variety.
"Get Up" the opening song is carried along by a subdued rap that breaks into a joyous chorus that encourages us to get free from what holds us and "get ready for so much more." On "What I Plan to Do," without warning, a shameless piano takes off on a brief excursion through Dixie-land jazz.
In the straight-ahead pop/rock of "Breakdown" Smith addresses a troubled soul: "How can you say it's better not to speak at all." Holding "it all inside" and saying "you're fine," when "it's just pretend." He speaks as a concerned friend when he warns: "You're headed for a breakdown." The beautiful falsetto and the otherworldly vibe heard on "Run" are reminiscent of Coldplay at their best.
The production combined with excellent vocals and musicianship make it all work together for a cohesive sound.
It's apparent from the lyrics that Real is full of honest reflections about life from a Christian perspective. The references to God and faith are subtle giving this crossover potential. What makes it rewarding are the optimism and hope that find their way into these songs.
This is a triumph not only for Jake Smith but for Rocketown Records in giving us another great debut.