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06.14
Friday
2024
Conner Smith

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Friday, June 14, 2024 at 7:30pm

Just 23 years old and already a seasoned veteran of Nashville’s elite songwriting community, Conner Smith has emerged as one of Country’s most hotly-anticipated new artists – one knows the past can still inspire the present, and good things come to those who wait.

An uncommon talent mixing prime-of-life passion with old-soul perspective, the young singer-songwriter has spent 15 years matching a honeyed vocal to propulsive hints of bluegrass and the warmth of ‘90s Country, an instant-classic sound infused with riveting modern appeal. Moving Country forward while remembering its all-natural roots, his long-anticipated full-length debut SMOKY MOUNTAINS, arriving January 26, 2024 via The Valory Music Co., is meant to stand the test of time – and just like a mountain, took a while coming to fruition. But according to Smith, it was worth the effort.

“It very much took 23 years to make these 12 songs,” the rising star says. “I felt like I found my own lane I was able to drive down, and I’m really proud of what it has become. There’s not a wasted second on the record – every song matters. And I think it really shows all the different things that make me ‘me’ – as a songwriter, a vocalist and as a performer.”

The follow up to his current Top 20-and-climbing hit “Creek Will Rise,” Smith’s deeply personal album debut is one of classic style and contemporary spirit, and a reflection of the artist himself. Rare among his peers, he counts himself as a Nashville native – a real-deal rising star raised in the shadow of Music Row, who penned his first song before he could tie his shoes.

Surrounded by colorful characters and world class songwriters, hit tunesmiths like Craig Wiseman, Tim Collins and Tom Douglas were Smith’s musical barometer, and after a fateful night at the Grand Ole Opry, a six-year-old Smith set out to tell stories in their image – down to Earth and relatable, but intelligent, too.

Smith went on to sign as a BMI songwriter at 9 and inked his first publishing deal at 16. Eventually he caught the attention of a neighbor – who happened to be GRAMMY® Award-winning producer/songwriter Zach Crowell (Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, Jelly Roll) – and together the pair began honing Smith’s unique style: Rooted in the simple-yet-sophisticated writing he was drawn to as a kid … but with the energy driving Country’s cutting edge.

2021 brought Smith a Top 40 breakout in “Learn From It,” with the viral hit “I Hate Alabama” and GOLD- certified “Take It Slow” close behind, capturing his creative spirit – and helping move him into the foothills of his SMOKY MOUNTAINS destination. Hailed as an Artist to Watch by Spotify, Amazon Music, the Grand Ole Opry and more, he hit the road with Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, Cole Swindell and more, and began headlining his own eclectic shows as well. Then in 2023, “Creek Will Rise” hit like a flash flood – all fiddle and forward momentum – becoming the “trigger” for things to come. The track set the tone for what SMOKY MOUNTAINS became, as Smith found his modern-traditional mark.

“With respect to true-hearted bluegrass fans, that sound really inspired me in this season of my artistry,” he explains. “I’ve been trying to discover what I wanted to say for the last five years since I signed a record deal, and now that I’m able to present that with this album. It might surprise some people on where it landed.”

Awash in fiddle and banjo, with rolling rhythms and acoustic guitars forming its bedrock, SMOKY MOUNTAINS rises to towering emotional peaks and drops deep into valleys of heartache, all with a Country-roots sound as everlasting as the Appalachians. Of 12 songs, all but one was co-written by Smith himself, working alongside hitmakers like Chase McGill, Thomas Rhett, Mark Trussell, Parker

Welling and more. And with Crowell producing, tectonic plates of right-now energy and timeless atmosphere collide, each one pushing against the other to lift them both sky high.

Meanwhile, heartfelt lyrics find a natural habitat within Smith’s easy vocal – crisp and satisfying as an untouched mountain spring, yet laid back and featuring a delicate rasp. To him, the album represents years of creative patience (and persistence), and “Smoky Mountains” is its pulse. True to life and beginning with the serene sounds of nature, it’s a title track invoking the front-porch jam sessions of days gone by – and the tension at Smith’s core. Old versus new. Comforting but charismatic. The call of adventure, and a longing for home.

“There’s an image in my head that’s so inspiring,” he says. “You got your family and your best friends, drinking some whiskey on a front porch, picking a banjo. And then as I was writing it, it really became a sense of longing, because this whole year has been about being gone an infinite amount, traveling and chasing the dream.”

Others like “Heatin’ Up” stand as a stone-cold Country “barn burner” – a soon-to-be live favorite with a reverb-drenched mix of twang and thump – and “Roulette on the Heart” (featuring Hailey Whitters) takes a chance on Smith’s natural flair for romance. Co-written by Smith with Jessi Alexander, Chase McGill and Mark Trussell, the tune features a weary Dobro and woozy sway, as Smith sings of love that comes at a risk – but is ultimately worth the gamble. Written about the dangerous games Smith and his now-fiancé once played, he knew it needed a specific kind of femininity, and sought out Whitters’ self- assured Iowa-drawl as his first choice.

“I wanted to keep the magic of that song intact. And I love where it landed,” he explains.

Elsewhere, tracks like “Baby, I” ignite the night with the energy of a deep-hollow dancehall. “Boots In the Bleachers” paints a small-town heaven in technicolor twang. And while “Trouble” gets up to some flirtatious fun, “Regret In the Morning” quietly shows a boy becoming a man, and “God Moments” finishes the set off with an easy-going expression of spiritual marvel.

But even as established favs like “Take It Slow” and “I Hate Alabama” show Smith’s creative beginnings, “Meanwhile in Carolina” reveals a different kind of genesis – one expertly-laid lyrical breadcrumb at a time. A calm-and-collected ballad with a gorgeous, contented soul, the tune feels like leafing through a sonic photo album, a masterpiece of song craft connecting the dots of two hearts destined for each other, who just don’t know it yet. A true labor of love co-written with Blake Pendergrass, it tells the story behind Smith and his fiancé coming together – a song even his heroes would have been proud to write.

“You always imagine that person, you always think about ’em, wonder where they are, wonder what they’re doing,” he says. “I was so proud of that song after we wrote it, because I knew it was one that mattered – it was song that meant something.”

It’s the type of song that takes 15 years to write, and when it finally comes out it feels like it has always been around – just like the Smoky Mountains. But you can’t rush nature, and you can’t argue with the results.