An epic, destructive hurricane… Two parents diagnosed with cancer within a week of one another… A car totaled by a drunk driver….
Artists are always looking for musical inspiration, for the grand ideas or dramatic life events that will lead to that one, perfect, career-defining song. But when new Rocketown Records’ artist Jake Smith asked God for inspiration, he hadn’t banked on a delivery of Job-like proportions.
Hailing from the jazz and blues-influenced swamplands of southern Louisiana, New Orleans native Jake Smith delivers both spirit and soul on Real, his Summer 2007 major label debut. Musically, Real offers a fusion of soulful, groove-based pop that blends seamlessly together to create a sound reflective of the richness and eclecticism of New Orleans. Influenced by everything from the classic sounds of Ray Charles to current artists like John Mayer and Ray LaMontagne, Smith possesses the musical chops to perform convincingly as a solo singer-songwriter, as the leader of a funky acoustic trio or in his favorite light, the frontman to a dynamic band of energetic Louisiana allies. But the strongest stimulus for his songs comes from life itself, the adversities he’s experienced and the faith that’s brought him hope in the midst of significant turmoil.
“My family is the most important thing to me,” Smith says, “and the last two years have been pretty crazy for us. Obviously, Hurricane Katrina really messed up our way of life. We were always told that if one hit like this we would be in trouble, but they always missed. I can remember my sister was pregnant at the time and we were gutting out her house, which had 13 feet of water in it. To watch someone you love lose everything is devastating.”
Though his parents’ home escaped serious damage, Jake’s world was rocked by everything he saw happening in his beloved hometown. Not long after Hurricane Katrina, Smith was driving to his apartment, praying to God with his eyes open and his heart full of questions. “I was saying, ‘God whatever you have for me, I’ll do. I’m confused about what’s happening, but I am yours, whatever you have.’ Before I could finish that last word, a drunk driver hit me. It was as if the material possessions that I had were being taken from me piece by piece.”
But this difficult season in the young artist’s life didn’t end with the loss of material possessions. Thankfully, he wasn’t injured in the car crash, but it was only a few months later that Jake received the most difficult news of all.
“A few months after the wreck, my father was diagnosed with cancer. This was incredibly tough on me because this man has been the most solid figure in my life. If he has cancer, we’re all in trouble. My mother was so supportive and was right by his side. She had dealt with cancer around when I was born so she had experience with it. But that same week my whole family was shocked to find that my mother had cancer again. Why? I was so shaken by all of this that I didn’t want to go to church, I didn’t want to write music, I just wanted to sit and wait for the next bad thing to happen.
“Since then God has slowly brought me back to Him. He truly gave me things to write about. He showed me that He was the only sure thing in this life. My family has never been closer than we are now. They have inspired me to write and to focus on what’s important, and thankfully, the treatments are working. Both my parents are cancer free now. But I constantly turn back to those dark days so I can remember how important family is.”
Still, Jake Smith’s debut album could be described as anything but dark. Real manages to take the traumas from Smith’s past two years and infuse them with the genuine hope and optimism that surrounds the artist himself. Quick-witted and laid back, Smith seeks to entertain as his songs inspire. “I can only write about what I know or have been through, and I think people will see that. I don’t sound like the guy from Creed, and I can’t swing my guitar around my neck, but I hope that I can make people move.”
In an era where audiences are craving authenticity, Jake offers 12 tracks pulled straight from his own life and the musical influences of his Louisiana heritage. “I chose to call the CD Real because I believe so many people fake parts of their life. I’m a real person—I mess up, I have crushes, and I go through a lot of things. I want people to see that. I want them to know that this is my real life and my real God.”
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