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Jonah Smith, Tin Angel, Philadelphia PA 1/17

Philadelphia’s historic district was in a deep freeze but Jonah Smith’s voice was as warm and intoxicating as hot buttered rum. A small crowd gathered on the upstairs level of a former row home now known as The Tin Angel. Smith in his trademark cap, mingled with fans before unceremoniously taking the stage. Sitting atop an amplifier case, he launched the band into “My Morning Scene” followed by “Little Black Angels” both from his eponymous Relix Records debut. The music sounded exactly like it was coming from the album – or rather – like the album came directly out of the music with no studio tricks required.

The audience moved in close and engaged themselves in the set, interjecting comments and questions. Smith reciprocated by sharing secrets about the band such as “the huddle up.” “I’ve instituted a pre-game hug before every show,” Smith said as the band chuckled. “I also assign a color and I say everyone think of this color for the entire show.” orange on this particular evening “I know that’s weird,” said Smith evoking audience laughter. There was something familial between Smith and the crowd.

The band moved through their new material mixing in earlier work such as “Skyscraper Blues” and the not-yet-released “Love Gets Lost.” For “Cast A Long Shadow,” Smith traded his Fender Rhodes for a melodica and impressed the sound engineer saying he needed a setting of 330 to 350 milliseconds with five to ten repeats. Then he admitted he really had no idea what he was talking about and usually just says “make it sound dub reggaeish” but an engineer at a previous show wrote down the setting and taped it to Smith’s piano. More secrets shared.

“Angels are ideas stuck in my head, love was just a dream I had when I was in your bed,” Smith sang before encouraging the audience to join in with “Don’t wanna live in a world without love.” Guitarist David Soler (a superstar in Barcelona, Spain says Smith) played pedal steel guitar for a cover of Malcolm Holcombe’s “Dressed In White,” the only song on the Relix debut Smith didn’t write.

A bit later, given the choice between another ballad and an upbeat tune, the audience opted for the latter. Smith’s next-door neighbor and good friend, drummer Gintas Janusonis got the room pulsating during “Tell It To The Mountain” with a beat that vibrated up through the hardwood floor.” The band then exited the stage, before returning for one more, as Smith sang “Everything is new for the first time.” For me it was all new and for the first time, as I had never heard Jonah Smith and his band perform live, but it certainly won’t be the last time.

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