I might call Isaac Smith a modern folk singer. I might spend a lot of time, as I have, trying to find just the right comparison to him out there in the wider indie music press, where he certainly deserves to be.
Does he sound like Joshua Hyslop? Yes, I think so, but no one knows that name. What about Damien Rice? No, please help me, not another Damien Rice comparison! There should be a thesaurus for these kinds of things!
Then, just like that, I might remember that Smith wrote a song:
My soul longs for the days of dust to be gone
And my feet firmly planted on solid ground
Just let me be myself, Just let me be myself.
It sounds like this Atlanta native, who now calls Savannah home, has been working hard to define himself, on his own terms, in recent years. So perhaps the last thing he wants is a comparison around his neck.
“Savannah, regardless if it’s the place that I call home forever or move away from it, it will definitely be the place that I have developed,” he says, placing the story of his musical becoming in a move here and away from a church. “I was extremely sheltered.”
Smith’s father was a Pentecostal preacher and Isaac played a variety of instruments in traveling church bands. But until just about four or five years ago, he never really ventured far outside of that Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond gospel universe.
“When I was growing up, it was more about what happened inside the walls than it was outside the walls,” he says of the church. “Music was for a religious reason.”
Traveling in Florida, he met another inspiration, his future wife, Tatiana. She came with an iPod loaded with everything he missed growing up. Together, they put it all on shuffle and he discovered the greats of pop and rock, gravitating toward singer-songwriter stuff.
“It pushed me not just to leave my old church self behind but to find a real spirituality in my life,” he says. “It pushed me to look at the arts and look at music and, through that, I found a voice in writing.”
He released his first album, Magnolia Bloom, a gorgeous six-song EP, in 2014. And he’s working on another album, due out this year. He says he feels lucky being able to make a living from music. Like a lot of local musicians, he plays covers in hotels and restaurants.
But it’s in his original material where he’s able to express himself in real, personal and honest ways. His crafty songs have rock-solid structure. In one on Magnolia Bloom, he looked at our centuries-old live oak trees and thought about his friends who’ve moved on.
“The idea came to me, through these trees, of like, what if we stuck around together?” he says. “The idea of plant our feet and grow with the trees came to mind. And so a song that I came out with was a song called ‘Trees.’”
I’m certainly no critic. But on songs like “Trees,” Smith’s music, his pitch-perfect voice, his vocal ornaments, his guitar style, his honesty and self-expressiveness are very “of the moment,” ready for lift-off. I really feel like I’m discovering his music along with him.
And yes, I feel like it could sit next to bigger names in the music world. So, at the end of our interview, I ask him if he has an agent. He laughs and asks if I’m offering. No, but I certainly can tell people about this incomparable musical thesaurus in the making.