Michael Whitaker Smith was born on October 7, 1957 in Kenova, West Virginia. His debut album THE MICHAEL W. SMITH PROJECT came out in 1983 and included the songs ‘Friends’ and ‘Great is the Lord’, both of which were co-writes with his wife Deborah that would become very popular. In 1986 Michael released what I would say is the album of his career. Entitled THE BIG PICTURE, it was aimed at teens, and dealt with issues such as partying, suicide, and premarital sex. His follow-up studio album was i 2 (EYE) which came out on Reunion Records in 1988. It became his first platinum album and hit #1 on the Contemporary Christian Charts. It was produced by Michael and Wayne Kirkpatrick and runs 56 minutes and 26 seconds.
The album opens with a quirky sounding pop song musically. Paul Leim is on drums and Terry McMillan contributes percussion and harmonica. ‘Hand of Providence’ declares a belief in a Higher Power: “Oh, the Hand of Providence/Is guiding us through choices that we make/Oh, the Hand of Providence/Is reaching out to help us on our way/Providence, ever since/Any thesis ever entered man/The Hand of Providence/Has been our best defense/Tho’ His ways are sometimes hard to understand”. ‘Secret Ambition’ is a terrific Christian rock song written by Michael, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Amy Grant. Among the background vocalists are Chris Harris and Mark Heimermann. The song speaks of Christ: “Nobody knew His secret ambition/Nobody knew His claim to fame/He broke the old rules steeped in tradition/He tore the Holy Veil away/Questioning those in powerful position/Running to those who called His Name/(But) Nobody knew His secret ambition/Was to give His life away”.
‘On the Other Side’ begins with these words of testimony: “I’m not how I used to be/When we hung around/Back when it was you and me/Tearin’ up this town/We used to live our lives running from change/Now we don’t see eye to eye/I am not the same/And you wonder where I’ve gone/Well, I’ve found where I belong/I’m on the other side/True-I used to walk your shore/But I’m not there anymore/I’m on the other side”. ‘All You’re Missin’ is a Heartache’ is a slow rock number. Two of the backing vocalists are Stryper’s Michael Sweet and Oz Fox. It seeks to convince believers their lifestyle is the best: “You’re kissing the dark, you’re courting your pride/You wonder is it greener on the other side/(But they have nothing to offer you)/All you’re missin’ is a heartache/A disillusion for a keepsake/A life of living with your own mistake/All You’re missin’ is a heartache”.
‘I Miss the Way’ is a pretty ballad that uses a string quartet. Ron Huff is responsible for the string arrangement. This song is addressed to one who has fallen away from their Christian faith: “I miss the way His love would dance within your eyes/I miss the way His heart was the soul of your life/And somewhere in the saddest part of heaven’s room/Our Father sheds a tear for you/He’s missing you too”. ‘Live and Learn’ is a peppy pop/rock song that uses horns and finds Tommy Simms on bass. It encourages us not to keep committing the same sins over and over: “An engaging temptation had me doing time/’Cause when it starts a fire under strong desire/We are partners in crime/But hindsight is clearer/I can see where I’ve gone and never return/It’s a new man in the mirror/It’s a new freedom song to live and learn/Always living and learning (2X)”.
‘I Hear Leesha’ is a sentimental song dedicated to Leesha Heaston who lived from 1972 to 1988. Here are some of the words: “Seems like it was only yesterday/She was living here, yeah, she was living here/Lord knows why He’s taken her away/It isn’t very clear, no, it isn’t very clear/Into every life a little rain must fall/And losing one you love is like a storm/But storms are passing/I hear Leesha singing in heaven tonight/And in between the sadness/I hear Leesha telling me that she’s alright”. ‘Help you find your Way’ was penned by Chris Rodriguez, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Michael W. Smith. Dan Huff, Chris Rodriguez, and Tom Hemby play guitars. This song, that rocks hard in the latter half, is about friendship: “When it feels like you’re living in a box/You need someone who believes in you/A promise true when tried/I’ll be right here by your side/So whenever your need be/Know that you can lean on me/I’ll help you find your way (2X)/When you’re lost in all the madness/When you’re blinded by your doubt/When you need someone to be there for you/I’ll help you find your way”.
Up next is ‘Ashton’, a creative instrumental penned by Michael W. Smith. It was inspired by Frank Peretti’s book ‘This Present Darkness’. Mark O’Connor plays fiddles and mandolins. Michael and Gary Moore wrote the next song `The Throne’. It uses both an adult choir and a children’s choir. These lyrics sound like a passage from the Book of Revelation: “Blessing! Glory! Sing Hallelujah!/Shout the saints of God alone/Honor! Power! and Dominion!/Praises gather at the throne/Oh, they gather at the crystal throne/Gather at the crystal throne”. ‘Pray For Me’ finds Billy Sprague playing acoustic guitar. It is an emotional easy listening song about parting ways: “Here is where the road divides/Here is where we realize/The sculpting of the Father’s great design/Through time you’ve been a friend to me/But time is now the enemy/I wish we didn’t have to say goodbye/But I know the road He chose for me/Is not the road He chose for you/So as we chase the dreams we’re after/Pray for me and I’ll pray for you/Pray that we will keep the common ground/Won’t you pray for me and I’ll pray for you/And one day love will bring us back around”.
Nowadays, Michael W. Smith is known primarily as a worship artist. He is also respected for his several Christmas albums and tours. i 2 (EYE) takes you back to a time when his music was more pop/rock in nature and directed at teenagers and some young adults. I’m rating it 93% and recommending it to fans of Steven Curtis Chapman, Billy Joel, and Elton John. I would love Smitty to make another more youth oriented album in the future, but I don’t think it’s likely to happen. For more info visit: www.michaelwsmith.com.