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Daniel Smith & The Fifth Amendment

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Within Daniel Smith's rugged six-foot-five frame lies the heart of a poet and the warm, sincere and comforting voice of a best friend. Like those of Kris Kristofferson, Smith's lyrics are literate and well-defined meditations on life's uneven surfaces. Smith grew up in Taylor Mill, Kentucky, a small town just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Although Cincinnati has long been a center of country and bluegrass music, Smith says his inspiration came from his parents' record collection, which tended to be heavy on albums by Conway Twitty, the Statler Brothers and the gospel-singing Gaithers. Like most boys his age, Smith also developed a strong affinity for rock music. In college, he began playing in his fraternity's rock band, No Exit, which made a sizable name for itself working the clubs and bars of Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. While still living in Kentucky, Smith recorded a four-song demo and "shotgunned" it by mail to Nashville record labels and music publishers. "Obviously, I didn't know a lot about the industry then," he admits. " But that's what I did at first, and then I came down to Nashville just to get the feel of everything." Smith's big break came in July of 2003 when he met Larry Sheridan and Robin Ruddy, the owners of Best Built Songs, a music publishing company, and Parlor Recording Studio. (Sheridan and Ruddy would later be honored for their work on the Grammy-winning folk album, Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster.) "I went in there to record a demo of a song called 'Thank You: Tribute To The American Soldier,'" Smith recalls, "and I struck up a relationship with them." Impressed by his songwriting skills and recording potential, Best Built Songs signed him to a publishing contract. Smith says he goes out of his way to keep his songwriting outlook fresh. He explains, "I write more from my own perspective, material that will suit me personally and yet still be commercial." Smith's "Thank You" is not an angry song as so many other tributes to soldiers have been. It doesn't lash out at terrorists or war protesters or threaten to kick anybody's butt. Instead, it is a dignified yet impassioned expression of gratefulness to those who've risked everything. Elsewhere, Smith writes and sings of honesty ("What U See Is What U Get"), the joys of a good marriage ("We've Got Love"), lessons learned ("True Measure Of A Man") and the benefits of living life on the edge ("What's Wrong With That"). "I'm Going Home," the song that sparked the letter quoted above, transports the listener from immobilizing despair to transcendent hope. Not a bad start. At its best, country music rises above the fluid sounds of steel guitars and quaint postcard images of home. It finds wisdom in the commonplace, joy in the absurd moment and strength in unblinking self-awareness. This is Daniel Smith’s territory and the landscape he shares with us in American Made.

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