Momentous Mondays: Influential artists of the next 5-10 years – Week 13: Jordan Smith

Do you think a song is just great because it is? Because of the original artist’s recording, maybe the song stands tall on its own. Or maybe a song is just good simply because of the number of covers that have been recorded of aforementioned track. And once we’ve figured out that the song it good, maybe even awesome, then should the song promote the message inside or the original artist, or shudder to think the cover artist? Perhaps the cover version is just as good or maybe even better than the original, and in that case- well the ‘newer’ artist is just simply lucky and blessed to have their stardom fast-tracked by covering such a well known and timeless sung. What about artists who cover several songs and then showcase their voice that way? Does any of you know what I’m subtly alluding to? Of course I’m speaking about singing competitions and how covers of famous songs gone by essentially can propel a literal nobody to global stardom. How do any of these guys thrust into the spotlight deal with the instant pressure? Well judging from the calibre of the small sample size that is only two studio albums and one Christmas album- up and coming powerful vocalist Jordan Smith has handled the pressure quite well. And no doubt he will be, if not already, influential in his own right, as he inspires and encourages us all to live life to the fullest, and to in turn provide light and hope to others who need it.

Back in the day I used to love Australian Idol, from first season where Guy Sebastian won, to the last season where Stan Walker took the throne. Then the show ended and we were left with The Voice, The X Factor and ____’s Got Talent. American Idol still was going on in the U.S., and between the shows, a lot of artists excelled generally whom received their start in a singing talent show. Artists like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Kris Allen, Adam Lambert, Colton Dixon, Mandisa, Danny Gokey, Daughtry, Dami Im, Anthony Callea, Shannon Noll, Casey Donovan, and Phillip Phillips have all originated from talent shows- all with varying degrees of success. Yet I reckon there is one artist who stands tall amongst these- his sheer powerful voice earning him the right to mingle with the ‘big kids’ so to speak. Jordan Smith’s name may not be memorable, but his music and his big booming voice sure is!

Revealing to the world just how popular his music really is, where he became the best-selling artist in the history of The Voice, and also the season 9 winner of The Voice in 2015; Jordan Smith unveiled his debut album Something Beautiful in 2016 and his sophomore album Only Love in 2018. In between the Christmas project Tis The Season dropped at the end of 2016, and together these three albums right now form the cornerstone of who Jordan is as a person and how he communicates hopeful optimism in the face of adversity and helplessness. Even though a fair portion of Jordan’s songs covers (pop songs in his debut album and traditional holiday songs in his Christmas album- in fact the only album of full original material from Jordan is Only Love; there’s still a trademark musical flair that is entirely his own embedded and infused throughout every note, making these unique projects as a whole, whether rooted in pop or rooted in the classical, captivating to listen to. Even if you’re not a fan of The Voice, can I just try to convince you to take a quick sneak peek of what Jordan has to offer? Because vocally, he’s at the top of his game right now, and probably right now only third to both Bart Millard of MercyMe and Mark Hall of Casting Crowns in terms of vocal ability (in my opinion!)… anyway, just take a listen and see what you reckon. I know you definitely won’t be disappointed.

I want this record to inspire people. Some of these songs are about love, some are about strength, and some are about personal experiences. Music is a very powerful tool. I’m thankful and blessed to use it in order to spread hope with Something Beautiful…It’s extremely important for me to let everyone know it’s OK to be different. I feel like it’s taken a long time for me to love different parts of myself. The world is hurting and searching, because we think there are flawed parts of who we are. It’s important to accept yourself and have confidence, and then you can love others

Usually soon after an artist wins a certain singing competition (like American or Australian Idol, or Australia, America or Britain’s Got Talent, or the X Factor); the winner’s debut album releases shortly afterwards, most of the time comprised of only one or two originals (or even no originals!) and the rest of the album are full renditions or sometimes 1 minute or 2 minute renditions of other artists’ songs. This is more or less the case with Something Beautiful from Jordan- only 4 out of the 12 songs originally recorded by him. But out of the 8 covers, Jordan has indeed picked from a wide variety of genres, of different time periods and eras; yet everything seems uniquely ‘him’, with the unifying and constant theme throughout each of the melodies being our firm and strong identity in ourselves, and not being swayed or pressured by one thing or another.

One such song that speaks about our identity is John Newton’s “Amazing Grace”, and while Jordan does not include the additional choruses written by Chris Tomlin on his own version (which in my opinion would have been great exposure for Chris Tomlin!), what he does deliver to us is four minutes of Holy Spirit anointment wrapped up as a synth and keys led ballad with an epic orchestral crescendo and the introduction of a gospel choir near the end of the track. Declaring that Jesus’ grace was and is so amazing for us, that ‘…I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see…’, we are presented with a clear view of the gospel, and now we know Jordan’s stance in his faith in Jesus if we didn’t know before. Seeing that Something Beautiful is an album directed at the mainstream, the inclusion of such an overt praise and worship song, is bold yet clever as well. No doubt listeners were moved and touched, and also drawn closer to Christ, and hopefully others who do not know Jordan’s music that much will be drawn to this song first up and be drawn to Jesus that way. It takes guts to stand against the crowd and for what you believe in even if the world tells you that you should believe otherwise, so hats off to Jordan for standing up for what you believe in, and not watering down your faith.

Sadly, and unfortunately though, there’s no other cover on this album that could really compare to the explosiveness and power of this timeless hymn, yet there are still some necessary truths for us to hear from the other melodies. Judy Garland’s “Over The Rainbow”, famous for being sung in the 1939 film The Wizard Of Oz, imparts to us the idea and notion that behind each big dream there’s a ‘rainbow’- a place where such dreams do come true; that if we really want our dreams to come to fruition, we can achieve them through working really hard, with perseverance and support from our loved ones. While “You Are So Beautiful”, made famous by Joe Cocker, is a piano only two-minute stirring melody about the persona singing to their loved one, proclaiming that they are so beautiful and everything that the persona could hope and pray for; and Jordan’s near flawless cover of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” is probably one of the most inspiring melodies I’ve heard in a long time- it’s hard to imagine that this song is nearly 20 years old!- as Jordan encourages us that no matter what other people say, our beauty and worth isn’t tied up in other people’s opinions, but rather our own (and by inference God’s opinion!). In a world full of distractions and people chasing after material possessions, it’s refreshing to hear songs about how true beauty goes deeper than anything on the surface, and how our own self-worth and identity isn’t based on the world’s opinion of us. Similar in theme to “Beautiful” from MercyMe, Christina Aguilera should be proud of this song, as we are encouraged to see the worth inside of ourselves- we are still breathing therefore there is still a purpose for each one of us.

“Angel”, probably one of the most ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ songs on this album apart from “Amazing Grace”, is originally recorded by Sarah McLachlan, as Jordan powerfully exclaims across vibrant strings and emphatic synth that there is an ‘angel’ (subtly alluding to Jesus), whom we can turn to in any circumstance; while Jordan also tackles the story of a failed relationship in the piano only “And So It Goes”, written by Billy Joel- while I am unsure as to why this particular song was chosen, maybe it was so that we can be glimpsed into what a failed relationship looks like, remembering that God our father promises us that in Him we’d never be like that persona in that relationship ever again.

Further down the tracklist of Something Beautiful, Jordan exquisitely records his inspiring version of Rhianna’s “What Now”, as he questions the meaning of life and has what most people would call an existential crisis- being unsure what to do and who to turn to in the midst of a tough spot. Not that that is what Jordan was feeling when he was recording this song (or maybe it was!), but in recording this confronting and in-your-face piano prominent and later on guitar led melody, Jordan is probably singing what quite a lot of people are feeling, that ‘…there’s no one to call ’cause I’m just playing games with them all, the more I swear I’m happy, the more that I’m feeling alone, ’cause I spent every hour just going through the motions, I can’t even get the emotions to come out…’. A standout in Jordan’s whole career, Jordan deserves praise at least for covering this track that to me is much needed for everyone to hear, even if it doesn’t provide clear cut answers. The final cover Jordan has selected is the bouncy, piano pop, part acoustic and part acapella epic anthem “Ain’t Got Far To Go”, written and originally recorded by Jess Glynne, chronicling how success, happiness and contentment aren’t that far away from us, depending on our perspective and what our definition of the word it- it’s a notion we can find easy to forget, and this melody is a timely reminder that happiness isn’t bought with money, a theme similar to Needtobreathe’s “Happiness”.

When you take a step back and compare Jordan’s four original recordings with the covers, it’s quite remarkable to find almost no obvious difference musically- in that Jordan sounds like a pro and a veteran singing his own songs alongside the songs of some of his music heroes. That is definitely a good thing, as we are reminded how much of an accomplished songwriter and performer Jordan is- and he’s only 26 at the moment, and 22 at the time of his first album releasing! Just think at how much more magnificent his career would be in 10-15 years’ time! “I Got To Be Me” tackles the topic of authenticity and loving oneself, and being secure in the identity that shouldn’t change or shake at all, as Jordan unequivocally cries out in desperation his need to be true to himself across chilling guitars and drums; and the piano only album ender “Beautiful Things” has Jorden earnestly trying to unite listeners through the common theme of all of us being beautiful things because of our differences- kudos to Jordan for trying to unite us all in a day and age where the slightest difference between two people could spark a heated argument.

Jordan also warns us against the dangers of complacency in the piano only ballad “Settle”, in which Jordan voices his honest opinion of keeping fighting until he has nothing left, that ‘…I don’t wanna settle just because I’m scared, when the lights go out and the darkness dares you to settle, I don’t wanna settle…’; yet it is the first single, Jordan’s most popular and well-received melody “Stand In The Light” that is indeed the pinnacle of the album, both lyrically and thematically. As Jordan conveys across captivating keys that being who we are and no one else is key and important in living a life to the fullest and one what people respect, we are glimpsed into one of the most vulnerable, personal and emotional songs of the year. Jordan clearly is a future star in the making, and “Stand In The Light” proves that the best is still to come for this young talented musician.

I always have an inspirational message in my music, and I want music to change people, to move people and uplift people. On this record, I think I found a balance to not just say uplifting things, but make music that people can relate to. I feel like my songs are like my children, and ‘Only Love’ is like that precious baby that you have. The special thing is it doesn’t take any sides. I don’t want this to be a song that any side can use against the other to say, ‘this is what you should do’ or ‘this is how you should be,’ this is what we’re doing right and you’re doing wrong.’ This song is about what happens at the end of everything. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, all we really have is love for each other, and love will keep us and carry us. The love of God is the only thing that will keep us and carry us

Two years later, and now we are back at it again- listening to Jordan deliver to us yet another album. This time it’s 11 songs of original material (and 1 cover!), and much more for Jordan to sink his teeth into thematically and lyrically. “Please”, an emotional and heartbreaking melody, opens the tracklist, where Jordan passionately pleads with his loved one (with ‘pleases’ in order to persuade them) to stop cheating on him, in blunt terms; and is a heavy melody thematically to open up with, but one that needs to be sung about, as we grapple with the concept of staying true to your partner especially in times of trouble. Going hand in hand with “Covenant” from Tenth Avenue North, “Please” encourages us to take a look at our issues, and air them out with our family, our spouses, our girl/boyfriends, because it is only then when we’re honest that we can truly be in real relationships. “Love Her Better” is another lyrically strong track on Only Love, and though seemingly pop on the surface, and musically is a joy to dance to; this track is lyrically anything but light- as we are confronted with the reality that our life can pass us by when we’re indecisive and take a step back in any circumstance. Using the analogy of someone being jealous that his almost-girlfriend has now found someone else that isn’t him, and lamenting on the fact that he didn’t pursue her hard enough before; we are met with a revealing melody that asks us why don’t we take charge and go after the things we want? What do we have to lose?

If you thought the first two songs showcased Jordan’s prowess as a singer and his ability as a songwriter, then the rest of the album would definitely be a joy to listen to, and a heavenly experience if you would listen for the first time. As Jordan continues on this vein of asking questions that we don’t necessarily know the answers to, we realise that it’s ok to not have all the answers. What does matter is that we all must have the humility to accept different opinions and perspectives and the possibility of us being wrong. “Box” is the next step on Jordan’s journey of asking questions and is a standout on the album personally. Pop through and through and containing young children in an adorable choir used as gang vocals; we are met with a melody that reiterates that we as individuals are unique and we don’t need to be anyone other than ourselves. We don’t need to be perfect, we can just like as God fashioned us and shaped us to be without any worries that people would judge us. And that’s the beauty of a song like “Box”, as it can break chains and revolutionise the music industry. Perhaps this song could be a single in the future? And as much as “Box” reshapes the concept of perfection, “Only Love”, my all-time favourite of the album, and the title track and the album’s official first single, continues along this vein, as the song probes and probes, and with the honest and emotional track led by the piano and led by Jordan’s inspiring and powerful vocals. As we are met with a larger-than-life track that emphatically reminds us that ‘…only love, can look inside a human heart, and see us for who we are, and we are would be enough, if only there was only love…’, we are encouraged to find that love for ourselves, with is inferred to be Jesus especially once we know that Jordan is a firm believer and his faith shapes everything he does. “Only Love” would be THE SONG I’d encourage you all to listen to first (from all of Jordan’s discography- even before “Stand In The Light”); but that’s not to say that the other tracks aren’t compelling nor challenging nor resonating at all.

Case in point is “Lonely Eyes”, a groovy jazz infused pop melody where Jordan calls out fakers and people acting like everything’s fine, saying that we can lie all we want to but nothing can hide the subconscious emotions on our faces; and “Nothing On You”, a sweet, warm and heartfelt piano led ballad, where Jordan sings a song of encouragement and thanks to his wife, relaying that she is far above any of his exes in every way possible. “End In Love”, a cover of a John Legend melody, is quite possibly one of the most inspiring ‘mainstream’ relationship style melodies I’ve heard in a long time, as Jordan relays to the audience and an unspecified girl that he’s willing to do the work to make the early relationship end up in love for both of them- which is obviously a song about how he and his now wife fell in love and married. A track that we all can declare to our potential spouses, “End In Love” promises that there’s no easy road to happiness, and that fulfilment most of the time arises once we put in the work- a scary notion but a necessary one that we need to hear. On the flipside, the piano led “Find Yourself In Me” is as sad as they come, and is about the persona asking his soon to be ex why she can’t find herself in that relationship, why she needs to run away and upend their whole history- and if that’s not heartbreaking, then let me tell you that when I was listening to the song, I could imagine God singing parts of that to us, asking us why have we decided that He’s not needed, that we can do life on our own. It’s a melody with a double meaning, yet Jordan’s emotion and passion here make this song real and authentic, and not preachy at all- definitely one to listen to as we remember that identity isn’t in the things of this world but in Jesus alone.

“Burn It All Down” follows, and is somewhat of a metaphor, and a song in my mind that’s sung to the devil, telling him that everything weighing down on us will be burned to the ground (might be literally, but definitely metaphorically) as we enter into a new start without any baggage; while the acoustic guitar and keys led slow ballad “Beauty Lies” challenges us to be more vulnerable with our loved ones, even if it’s messy, because ‘…when you lay down your cry, that’s where the beauty lies…’. The album then takes a turn for the time travel throwbacks as I swear we’re literally listening to a gospel track from the 50’s and 60’s in the big booming jazz inspired “Feel Good”, where Jordan emphatically reiterates that we all need to feel good. Not really giving the reason why- I guess we’re meant to believe that’s we can feel good because of Jesus, especially when there’s a gospel choir and a real ‘Christian’ atmosphere to the melody, and it is these layers that really make the album as a whole all the more enjoyable and necessary to listen to. The album then ends with the quasi-worship song “Sleeve”, another personal highlight; as Jordan ardently declares that no matter where he is in the world, Jesus will always be with him, and he won’t forget the fact the Jesus is the One who He should be putting all the focus onto, that ‘…Your words are my armor my strength, Your love is my one saving grace, no demons nor doubts can bring these walls down, as long as You’re here with me…’. Emotional, raw, vulnerable and brutally honest, this is worship at its most simplest- kudos to Jordan for revealing a part of himself that probably wasn’t seen before until this year.

The first album happened in that whirlwind that I was riding at that moment. It was like, get it done, get it out. Do whatever is necessary to make this thing in time. With this one, it was really important for me to step away and really define who I was as an artist, as a songwriter, as a musician, because I don’t really feel like I’ve had a chance to do that, yet. For me, it’s really important to figure out what’s floating around inside of me — what sort of music that is, what lyrics those are, and get that down on paper and really make this about me, and make this something that defines me, and take a little time to do that

If an artist just has a powerful voice, and that’s it- or maybe just inspiring lyrics, and that’s it; do you reckon that they could be described as on the cusp of being influential? While I myself have described above why I reckon these two albums place him in the upper echelon of rising talent, does that really prove that he is or he is going to be influential? Maybe, maybe not. But that is where you guys come in with all of your own different opinions. Please listen to these albums- I believe they’re too great not to be kept in the dark and dusty on the shelf. Particularly when there’s a Christmas coming up this year in 2020 (just like there is Christmas every year!) and you can spin a certain Jordan Smith holiday album on your Apple Music player or on Spotify. And as for the extra stuff Jordan does and is recognised for outside of music that you all know is coming- which is the icing on the cake that cements Jordan in my list- how about Jordan’s song “Ashes” being recorded by Celine Dion for the movie Deadpool 2? And how about Jordan Smith’s win kickstarting the Kentucky economy from which Jordan is from? Because according to Wikipedia, ‘…Upon his return to Kentucky, Smith was named a Kentucky colonel by the secretary of state at a parade in Smith’s honor. He was also named the 2015 Kentucky Monthly Kentuckian of the Year. Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley said Smith’s win had a huge impact on an area that is struggling to rebuild its economy. “Jordan may have single-handedly reversed negative stereotypes on our region that will help give us an economic bump”. In January 2016, Smith was announced as grand marshal of the Kentucky Derby Festival Pegasus Parade in May…’; and all of this obscure news reminds us all that yes music is one part of life. Yes, it is very important in that the voice and the lyrics is what makes or breaks the singer and whether they are a veteran of 30 + years or a one hit wonder; but there is indeed life outside of music, and Jordan has helped his town thrive through his music- so that when it comes to life outside music, he can thrive also in his town! Make any sense? With authenticity and realness being very important in music nowadays, Jordan has revealed to us 3 albums full of emotion, honesty and vulnerability. There’s no denying that this guy is special, and there are certainly some high hopes by myself placed upon him for his next album! But until that day comes, let us all sit back and marvel at God’s handiwork! He is definitely using Jordan for His own glory, just one listen of any song of Jordan’s is proof of that!

Does Jordan Smith make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of the next 5-10 years’ list? Is there any song (other than “Stand In The Light”, “Only Love”, “Feel Good”, and “Sleeve”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

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