Sometime in the distant future, when a wizened Dallas Smith is rocking back and forth on his front porch, stroking his chin and fondly recollecting his astonishing career, he’ll pinpoint this precise period – the release of his second full-length album, Lifted, with its scorching #1 single “Wastin’ Gas”, the ecstatically received ensuing tour, and succeeding win for “Country Album of the Year” at the 2015 JUNO Awards – as the moments when everything came completely together.
It’s not just the music and accolades that find Smith having a huge year in 2015, though you can bet dollars and donuts that Lifted, with its twangy mix of guitar-goosed corkers, rollicking sing-alongs and tender ballads drawn both from his critically acclaimed 2014 Tippin’ Point EP and from new sessions, is hands-down his most dynamic record.
Smith’s confidence as a performer on the ridiculously vibrant country music live circuit also points to someone at the peak of his powers. That’s saying something considering the platinum-selling singer/songwriter has already racheted up accolades including but not limited to his recent 2015 JUNO win, and eight CCMA Award nominations.
His current single, “Lifted” recently went top 10 at radio, making Smith the first Canadian artist to have a top 10 hit for every single released. Named by Mediabase as 2014’s most played Canadian country artist at radio, Smith has skyrocketed to the top of the Country music scene becoming the only male Canadian artist to spend multiple weeks at the top of the Country Airplay Chart in the Nielsen BDS era for the #1 single “Wastin’ Gas”. Additionally, the GOLD certified track broke the record for the highest one week spin total at country radio in Canada ever.
Oh, and did we mention that before emerging as a country star to reckon with, the B.C.-based Smith served as howler-in-chief with gazillion-selling rock brawlers Default (see 2001’s smash hit, “Wasting My Time.”) Yup, if Smith hasn’t already got the words “boundlessly versatile and amazingly talented” scripted somewhere on his heavily inked bod, he could rightly do so, although he’s far too modest to cop to that reality.
“With this record, the main thing was of course to record the best songs possible,” Smith says of tracks crafted by hit-makers including Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line and Jaren Johnston of The Cadillac Three. “But I also really wanted to take the EP we had and create a full-length record that had a lot of variety… little bits of all the influences I have.”
“Compared to my first record (2012’s Jumped Right In), Lifted is like night and day. We took different approaches with my voice and there are different layers. We also expanded the production.” Thanks for the last bit goes to songwriter/producer Joey Moi, who brought similar flair to the Tippin’ Point EP and Smith’s before-mentioned debut.
“Joey has a knack for knowing when a song is right,” Smith confirms. “And his work ethic is second to none. He makes me dig in to make the vocal takes better and better. As frustrating as it can be at the time,” he chuckles, “I am always amazed when I look back. Joey always makes me proud of what I have done.”
Of course, long-time partners Smith and Moi had heaps of outstanding material to work with when approaching Lifted, which was variously cut in Nashville and Canada in the fall of 2014. As Smith explains, his association with the celebrated Big Loud Mountain label and Big Loud Shirt music publishing company gave him access to some of the best songwriters scribbling in Music City plus dibs on their newest work.
“Rodney Clawson was heavily involved in this record again,” Smith says, “Jaren Johnston and of course Joey Moi. And there are some new guys. Matt Dragstrem is a fresh face in the Big Loud Shirt camp and he co-wrote ‘Wastin’ Gas.’”
Ask Smith what criteria he looks for when choosing songs and he pauses thoughtfully. “There are a million things. There has to be an interesting melody and I need to be challenged vocally.
“I wanted this record to be really dynamic – more so than anything I have done in the past - so with song selection, I wanted breadth, not a bunch of songs drawn from the same bucket. So there are a couple of ballads and a couple of really straight-ahead fun songs and a few that are lyrically more mature sounding.”
There were also challenges to be surmounted. For instance, Smith feared the song ‘Thinkin’ ‘Bout You’ – with its punchy, mouthful chorus – would be a recording nightmare. In fact, “It was the easiest song on the record. I banged that off in a couple of passes.”
By contrast, ‘Just Say When’ seems like a straightforward mid-tempo country/pop love song. “And I thought it was going to be easy for me to sing. Unfortunately, it was not,” Smith laughs. “We had to mess around with the key a little bit, and it was really hard to match the magic in the demo. You just never know how things are going to shape up until you get in there and start recording.”
At the other end of the spectrum is the rowdy slice-of-life vignette ‘Cheap Seats,’ soon to be a much-requested staple of contemporary country radio and possibly the only song to utterly nail the concert experience in a few vivid verses.
“The demo for that song was actually sung by Sarah Buxton who wrote it,” Smith explains. “So it was interesting to take a song demoed with a female voice and translate it to what I do. But as soon as I heard it, I knew I had to cut that song before anyone else could get a chance.”
Smith’s intuition rarely steers him wrong and he’s felt nothing but encouragement from country radio, the country establishment and, most importantly, from fans both at home and south of the border. He’s selling out shows, smashing both radio and sales records and he consistently fills the airwaves with hook-filled, stadium-worthy anthems.
By all accounts, Smith, whose vocal delivery sets him apart from his contemporaries, is a critical and commercial breakthrough in the world of country music – equal parts endearingly traditional and chart topping country star to the core.
He’s leading the charge and he’s here to stay.