Album Review of
Unbound

Written by Joe Ross
July 29, 2015 - 12:00am EDT
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Kenny Smith started his music career playing Southern Gospel music in churches. His rock solid guitar work with the Lonesome River Band from 1995-2001 twice led to his winning IBMA's "Guitar Player of the Year." Smith's solo project, "Studebaker," showcased his fine songwriting and wife's soulful singing. Kenny and Amanda turned plenty of heads with their defining bluegrass album, "Slowly but Surely" (Farm Boy FBR-1001), that included band members Ronald Inscore, Jason Moore, Steve Huber, and Ron Stewart. It helped formulate the band's original, contemporary sound characterized by beautiful vocals, expert picking, solid arrangements, excellent repertoire, and high recording quality.

The versatile Kenny & Amanda Smith Band debuted on Rebel Records with their "House Down The Block" project. Their first gospel CD, "Tell Someone," introduces us to three new young musicians in the band - Jason Robertson (mandolin), Jason Davis (banjo), Zachary McLamb (bass). All three are very solid instrumentalists, but one minor complaint is that I can hear some of McLamb's strings snapping on the fingerboard of his bass, particularly on the up-tempo numbers. While some of that would be acceptable in a secular bluegrass set, it can be a bit distracting in a spiritually-tinged gospel set. Daniel Carwiles fiddles on seven of the tracks. Most of the band's vocal arrangements are sparse with only Kenny's tenor harmony below Amanda's lead vocal, but six tracks add a third harmony line courtesy of Rhonda Vincent (1 cut) or Wayne Winkle (5 cuts). The opening cut, "Shoutin' Time," illustrates the similarity between Amanda's and Rhonda's voices as they trade lead vocals on the first and second verses. Laying vocal harmonies in below Amanda's high lead gives the band a personalized sound.

The album features standards that Kenny and Amanda sang while growing up in church while also showcasing strong and effective compositions from more contemporary songwriters such as Craig Market's "Mary Had A Little Boy," Clay Hess' "I Know Why," and Richard Gulley's "Till I Get Home." The intent of making this CD was clearly for Kenny and Amanda to reach out and touch people by sharing messages of their Christian faith. Their poignant closer, "Tell Someone How Precious He Is," embodies the overriding theme of their ministry through music. While they had been planning to record a gospel album for over a decade, the impetus for the album was provided when Kenny's father died in a tractor accident. With their calm assurance and devout belief, they are ready to face tomorrow and the continued opportunities and challenges that life will bring. (Joe Ross)