A review of Warren Smyth’s album, ‘Reason To Believe’

I CLEARLY remember the time when Warren Smyth first came on to my radar, writes Bill Allen.

It was one of those moments, I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar, when even though your car journey was completed, you were so intrigued by something you were listening to, that you couldn’t switch off your radio and leave your car.

In this case it was a Sunday night and the late John Greer was interviewing and playing some tracks, by a young graduate, who had just returned home to Northern Ireland.

The recordings were pretty basic, but the voice, that was something special. It had a quality possessed by very few Irish country vocalists. Indeed, had it not been for the County Down accent in his speaking voice, I could have been fooled into believing that this was some new rising star from Nashville, paying us a visit.

I noted the name, Warren Smyth, and later phoned my friend John to congratulate him on his ‘discovery’. I’ll never forget John’s comment, “Bill, he’s the sort of guy you’d love your daughter to bring home”.

Very soon, I’m pleased to say, Warren and I became firm friends. John’s concise description proved accurate, but unlikely to happen, as Warren’s heart belonged, and still does, to his young wife, the lovely Sharon.

Over the ensuing years I’ve looked on with some pride, as Warren carved out a dual career, as both a singer and broadcaster. On his very popular radio show, he has helped many young local artists by exposing their music to the public, while at the same time gaining the recognition he deserves as a singer, on stages all over Ireland, the UK and indeed, in Nashville itself.

Because of his busy schedule, recording has taken a ‘back seat’ in recent years. But the quality of Warren’s new recording has made the wait worthwhile. ‘Reason To Believe’ is more than just another good album, it must rank as one of the best ever produced in an Irish studio.

The album contains a mixture of well loved oldies and exciting new songs, some of which could well become standards of the future.

On the more ‘laid back’ tracks Warren’s velvet voice strokes your senses, in a manner reminiscent of Jim Reeves at his best.

‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus’, is the collection’s only duet and a song close to Warren’s heart, as it was written by a former resident of his home town, Banbridge, Joseph M. Scriven.

Warren chose his duet partner wisely, on this track. The term ‘living legend’ in music, is often too easily bandied about, but in the case of George Hamilton IV it could not be more true.

George’s first success came with hits in both the UK and American ‘Pop’ charts in the late fifties and he followed this up by building a career second to none, in country music. Having the pleasure of getting to know George over the years, I can tell you, without hesitation, that if there’s a kinder, more modest, gentleman around, despite his long and successful career, I’ve yet to meet him.

Perhaps the fact that Warren shares so many of George’s qualities, and his strong faith in God, is why it’s so fitting that they are performing together and why they ‘blend’ so well on this duet.

So often people release albums loosely labelled ‘Country Gospel’ and so often they fall between two stools, losing either the country fans, the Gospel listeners, or both. But thanks to Warren’s gorgeous voice, a brilliant production by William Mawhinney, a great bunch of musicians and a careful selection of material, ‘Reason To Believe’ will delight anyone who loves good music.

I know that Warren is an admirer of Elvis Presley. One of Elvis’ best albums carried the uninspiring title ‘Something For Everybody’. Uninspiring yes, but with the addition of two words, it could be used as a subtitle to describe Warren’s new album. ‘Something Very Special For Everybody’.