REVIEW: Chris Smallwood - "Out in the Open"

Chris Smallwood - Out in the Open

To purchase Out in the Open on iTunes, click here.

Just before the first chorus of Chris Smallwood’s debut record, Out in the Open, Smallwood explains that he’s “never been one to put it out in the open, so here’s my start.” Quite a fitting prelude for an artist who, after years of classical performance and study, has released his first album of pop music.

Smallwood’s first album is a fantastic blend of East and West coast singer-songwriter sensibilities. There’s a lot of Jackson Browne here. There’s even more Billy Joel and Carole King. Even more, there’s a reverence for honest, straightforward music-- especially the best stuff from the 1970s.

The second track, “Who You Loved,” starts with a guitar intro that almost tricks you into thinking that James Taylor might start singing. Fittingly, the five songs on Out in the Open could all be considered love songs, but they each approach the subject from different angles. The album’s closing track, “88,” is a tribute to the singer’s piano and the ways that music can be there for you in the loneliest times. “First love in black and white / I used to play you every night / When all I wanted was a friend.”

Smallwood’s voice is clear and unadorned throughout the recordings-- occasionally backed by harmonies like during the chorus of “Lock and Key.” The aforementioned chorus in “Lock and Key” swells like a great major-chord Jackson Browne song, the bass plucks out an Astral Weeks support line, and Smallwood asks “Why am I so afraid to say ‘I think of you every single day?’ You never miss a moment in my mind.” There are no studio tricks or fancy edits to impede on the songwriting. The production feels lively and personal because it allows the songs and melodies to breathe.

While listening to the album, I kept thinking about that E. E. Cummings poem that everyone read in high school:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)

Out in the Open as a whole is about the teamwork and cooperation that love provides. It’s the long-term partnership rather than the fleeting beginnings; the twenty-seventh anniversary rather than the rom-com ending. The earnestness of a poet like Cummings shines through as Smallwood sings that he will “make you a home in [his] heart]” during the refrain of “Who You Love.”

For a guy who claims that he isn’t used to talking about his feelings, Chris Smallwood is pretty great at it. Each song carries a sincerity through its production, lyrics, and instrumentation that can be difficult to achieve for other songwriters. By placing these thoughts and worries out in the open, he has released a fantastic, effortless-sounding debut album.

Listen to Chris Smallwood's Out in the Open on Spotify below.
To purchase the album on iTunes, click here.