Michael Whitaker Smith was born on October 7th, 1957 in Kenova, West Virginia. His dad was an oil refinery worker and his mom a caterer. After graduating high school Michael got into alcohol and drugs. In 1979 he had a breakdown and recommitted his life to Christ. He joined the CCM group Higher Ground as a keyboard player and singer. In 1982 he had the privilege of playing keyboards for Amy Grant on her AGE TO AGE tour. He went on to become her opening act. He released his first album MICHAEL W. SMITH PROJECT in 1983 on Reunion Records. It was nominated for a Grammy for Best Gospel Performance, Male. The album was re-released on CD with a new cover in 1987.
The project begins with ‘Sonata in D Major’, one of three instrumentals written by Smith. It is short, majestic sounding, and could be used as a royal processional. ‘You Need A Saviour’ is one of eight songs co-written by Michael (music) and his wife Deborah D. Smith (words). This one is a catchy Christian rock song that speaks to the party going crowd: “Made a friend last night, or you thought you did/Had a drink, had a talk, took a drive/Shared the night, gave up a part of your soul/Now she’s gone and you’re a little less alive.../Yes, you really need a Saviour/Somehow you’ve known it all along/Yes, you really need a Saviour/You know you’ve heard it for so long/Yes, you really need a Saviour/Someone to come and lead you on/You need a Saviour (2X)/It’s time”. ‘Could He Be The Messiah’ is an adult contemporary number that reflects on Jesus Christ: “Been here for days/I’m amazed at this teacher, carpenter, preacher/Lost in the crowd/I hear Him now/He’s praying and He’s saying ‘God feed them all’/Five thousand men/All of His friends are worried/Find bread and hurry/Five loaves and fish/What can He wish?/He’s praying, still He’s saying ‘God feed them all’/.../It is He the Messiah/Miracle Man, part of the plan/It is He the Messiah!/Life in His hand/I understand it is He”.
‘Too Many Times’ is a great ballad about the struggle for spiritual growth: “Will I ever finally be the true intended me?/Will the old in me be freed and left behind?/Too many times/I’m back inside/Wanting desperately to hide/Yet I know, I know You say/You have to die/Too many times/You hear my cries/I’m at the end of all my tries/So I’m open Lord/So teach me how to die”. Next up is a rock song, ‘Be Strong and Courageous’. It has God addressing the Old Testament character Joshua: “Never should you fear My call/Just listen and obey/Discouragement need never fall/Stand on the words I say/You know I led your fathers here/And you know I’ll lead you too/Inscribe my law into your soul and nothing will touch you/So be strong and courageous”.
‘Looking Up’ is a jazz/pop instrumental that is just shy of three and a half minutes long. The next track is my favourite! ‘The Race is On’ is a peppy pop song of encouragement to those seeking to live for Jesus: “Lord, I try running my own race/Losin’ ground, losin’ hope, losin’ sight of Your face/And I’m ready to retire/Then I’m back on Your solid ground/You remind me of the strength that in You I’ve found/And You fill me with Your fire/The race is on/Come on and go/Leave behind the sin you find that slows your time/Come on and go/You know the race is on”.
‘First Light/Love in the Light’ encourages us to be a people who make a positive difference on this earth while we are here: “Everyone who loves completely with a heart that opens freely/Walks in Sonlight/Let us love in the light for love is from God/If we love what is right we show whose we are/In a world of the dying we’re living our parts/If we love in the light with all of our hearts”. ‘Friends’ is Smitty’s highly sentimental signature ballad. He is joined by Amy Grant on vocals on this heart-tugger: “We’ll keep you close as always/It won’t even seem you’ve gone/Cause our hearts in big and small ways/Will keep the love that keeps us strong/And friends are friends forever/If the Lord’s the Lord of them/And a friend will not say ‘Never’/Cause the welcome will not end/Though it’s hard to let you go/In the Father’s hands we know/That a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends”.
‘Great is The Lord’ is a terrific original praise and worship song, complete with a choir. It would become very popular in churches: “Great is the Lord/He is holy and just/By His power we trust in His love/Great is the Lord/He is faithful and true/By His mercy He proves He is love/Great is the Lord and worthy of glory/Great is the Lord and worthy of praise/Great is the Lord/Now lift up your voice (2X)/Great is the Lord!” Last up is ‘Alpha Overture’, an intriguing instrumental that sounds like an ode to another world, outer space if you will.
MICHAEL W. SMITH PROJECT was produced by Smith and executive produced by Michael Blanton and Dan Harrell. Background vocalists used include: Gary Chapman, Diana DeWitt, Gary Pigg, and Pam Mark Hall. This really is a wonderful debut album! It showcases the fact that Smith can skillfully perform a variety of contemporary music styles. Youth and young adults were blessed at the time to have such fine songs about Jesus and the Christian faith to listen to and sing along with. Smith’s songwriting here is marvelous and his vocals are passionately delivered. I’m rating MICHAEL W. SMITH PROJECT 90%. For more info visit: www.michaelwsmith.com.