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CD REVIEW: Zak Smith - As Rome Burned

By  J.D. Stefan

 

 

 

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Artist: Zak Smith
Album: As Rome Burned
Label: None
Website: www.zaksmithlive.com
Genre:  Roots/Blues/Americana
Technical Grade: 8/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 7/10
Commercial Value: 6/10
Overall Talent Level: 8/10
Songwriting Skills: 7/10
Performance Skill: 7/10
Best Songs: Hollywood, Have You Looked Outside, A Traitor’s Way
Weakness: No real “hit” songs or really memorable melodies, production is a little too polished for the genre, could use a little more vibe and grit.

CD REVIEW:

“As Rome Burned” is the ambitious first release from singer/songwriter Zak Smith.  Accompanied by a whole cadre of adept musicians, Smith’s blues-tinged rock style and distinctive vocals give the air of someone much older and experienced than is 20-something years would lead you to believe.  Smith has a new release available in addition to As Rome Burned titled “An Endless Doubt”.  There is no information on the As Rome Burned CD or on Smith’s website to indicate when each album was released.  There’s also not much background on Smith to be found on the site or CD.  The CD however is nicely packaged and contains a booklet with all the song lyrics and song-by-song musician credits (a nice touch for those like me who like to read liner notes).  The CD was produced by John Noll and engineered by Adam Vaccerelli.  Recording and mixing were performed at Retromedia Sound Studios in Red Bank. NJ. 

The CD opens with a nice, gritty Telecaster riff on the song “Hollywood”, an ode to romance and the dream of being in Hollywood.  The playing is great, the production is well-done and the songs are a great blend of roots rock and Americana.  “Have You Looked Outside” brings to mind John Cougar Mellencamp and a bit of Springsteen (perhaps unavoidable in this genre originating out of New Jersey).    This is a very good songwriter’s album.  The lyrics have some great imagery and Smith’s soulful vocal style is appealing.  There’s a nice use of instrumentation throughout the album although it never strays far from the guitar-based roots.   The dynamics are also well-done.  A song like “A Traitors Way” is nicely placed in the album order as the next-to-last track and helps it stand out.  Smith should be very pleased with his efforts on this release.  It’s a very good roots/Americana album and the songs have a solid, identifiable style anchored by Smith’s vocals.  I’m sure that there’s a good audience out there for a work like this. 

If there’s a weakness on this release it’s likely in a couple of details.  The first one is that I hoped for more background and information on Smith.  The website isn’t very detailed in spite of being very well put together.  There’s not much info on the CD itself but again, the packaging and contents were also very appealing.  I think what I wanted to hear was more production-wise.  For me, many of the songs didn’t quite match up to Smith’s voice.  I felt the production was a bit too smooth and clean for the style.  I finally heard a bit of what I wanted on the last track “The Last Beat”.  The feel of that track was looser and just a bit more open and live and I felt that it worked best with Smith’s vocals.  The production overall is certainly well done but for me, this genre can use a little more rawness to it.  The gritty Telecaster sound that appears on many tracks is a great guitar tone and it’s recorded exceedingly well.  However, it comes across as just a little too pretty and polished, I wanted a bit more life in the musical backdrop and although there are many hints at it through the album, it never quite delivered.

Again, Smith should be very happy with As Rome Burned.  He’s delivered an honest album in his own style and he’s sure to find fans with it.  My critique is certainly subjective but I think it would be great to see Smith deliver these songs in a live performance with all the grit and feel intact. 

J.D. Stefan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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