For Nate Smith, wildfires have been both life-shattering and dream-making. After his first attempt at a country music career stalled he returned to his native California only for his house to burn down – and wildfires weren’t done ripping through his life just yet. His song ‘Wildfire’ (which, confusingly, is not about the wildfire in question) went viral on TikTok, scoring him a record deal.
He’s now released his self-titled album which may boast the claim of being the only album released on a major label that is simultaneously A) a debut; B) 26 tracks long; and C) being billed as a deluxe edition, despite the original version not having been released yet.
What’s going on here? Perhaps Sony believe in Smith so strongly – which, given his single ‘Whiskey On You’ has over 100 million streams on Spotify, is possibly wise. Or maybe Smith’s learned from his experience of losing it all just to win even more back that when you get your shot, you should throw everything you’ve got at it.
Throw he does on this record, drawing you in with trembling, catch-in-your throat coos, before pushing you back into the wall with the full g-force of his powerhouse vocals. Combined with his tendency to repeat, string out or hammer certain words – the “I just gotta let it BURN, BURN, BURN on down” of ‘World On Fire’ or the “I-I-I-I-I found a love like that” of the moody ‘You Ain’t Been In Love’ – it’s an intense listening experience.
Speaking of repetition, ‘Alright, Alright, Alright’ really is a reference to Matthew McConaughey’s David Wooderson, with Smith singing, “You smile and you say life’s got you dazed and confused”. It’s a catchphrase for a reason, and you too may find yourself singing along; although, given the sleaze associated with the Dazed and Confused character, following up with a song called ‘One Good Girl’ does leave a slight queasiness.
It’s a fun enough track, but one we’ve heard plenty of times before with its exaltation of girls, dogs, beer and having a damn good time. That same-iness is heard in the production throughout the record: if you’ve heard one of the arena-friendly, echoing guitar solos, you’ve heard them all – that’s the hazard of this album simply being too long.
It’s at odds with finer efforts like ‘Backseat’, which tells the trajectory of life from the vantage point of, well, the backseat; or ‘Oil Spot’, where Smith’s deep, gothic vocals compare the memory of a love he can’t erase to an oil spot on a driveway.
That’s the thing about Smith’s voice: it can keep surprising you.
On the chorus of ‘I Don’t Miss You’ there’s wisps of Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger; on the opening lines of ‘World On Fire’ you’ll hear snatches of Lewis Capaldi, and sometimes he just sounds like Nate Smith on songs like simple acoustic number ‘Love Is Blind’, where he lays out his flaws – “I ain’t that patient, I ain’t that kind” – and thanks those who love him for doing so, a theme that’s consistent throughout the record. It may not be perfect but it’s alright, alright, alright.