Although his repertoire is much more varied than the even-paced Americana country and folk rock picked for productions, most of Smith's songwriting centers on personal journeys. He likes to write songs that show snapshots of life, a glimpse into a bigger picture of someone's life.
Even on those rare occasions when he covers a song written by another songwriter, Smith leans toward the same. His newest single, the second released since November, is no exception. Although he has covered Highwayman during his live performances for years, this is the first time he recorded it.
Highwayman finds a new incarnation for another generation.
The song itself is one that no singer need take on lightly. It has a history. It was one of several catalysts that sparked a battle between Glen Campbell and Capitol Records. It was the song that sparked the supergroup The Highwayman with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson. And it paved the way for one of the most underrated rock songwriters, Jimmy Webb, to receive recognition with a Grammy Award in 1985.
It was originally written in 1977 after Webb had a dream about being an English highwayman in his London suite. When he woke up, he immediately began composing a song about it. As it took shape, the lyrics slowly began to shift from a story about a man with a black cape and pistols into something else.
Smith delivers the time weariness and wisdom of the song with near flawless perfection. You cannot find a better rendition of his cover than the new studio recorded single, but this live version from two years ago cuts very close.
As you can hear, Highwayman isn't just a story about a man, but the incarnation of a soul who exists in four different places throughout time — a highwayman, sailor, construction worker, and starship captain. The four voices were what originally attracted The Highwaymen to adopt the song, even if Campbell had passionately persuaded some of them to cover it before.
With each singer taking a verse, Highwayman has four distinct voices for four highlighted incarnations, even if Webb wrote lyrics for one soul to possess each and every story. In fact, anytime someone sings the song as a solo artist, including Webb, it has a very different feel than when those four legendary talents took it on as the name of their supergroup. This is how it sounds in the hands of the writer.
In comparing Smith to Webb, specifically, Smith clearly makes the cover his own, delivering a deeply passionate rendition that honors the original while giving it additional weight. Although composed on a piano, the potential heaviness of it is made clear by Smith's weary voice and warm guitar.
Often joined by Tommy Andrews (bass) and Matt Lynott (drums) to lay down folk rock albums, sometimes with a touch of country, Smith continues to double down on demonstrating how much he has grown as a performer. You can learn a little more about him from an earlier review of his album Lost And Found. The band has been around since 2002.
Highwayman Transcends Once Again At 9.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
There is almost nothing better than to appreciate the power of a song as it evolves from one decade to the next. The White Buffalo makes it modern again, but not without giving it a twist of timelessness. For anyone who likes the White Buffalo, The Whistler - Single is another single that deserves a listen.
You can find the Highwayman by the White Buffalo on Amazon or as a download it from iTunes. You can find earlier versions, including the one by The Highwaymen or Jimmy Webb, from the same outlets. For more from the White Buffalo, including tour schedules, visit them on Facebook.