Michael Whitaker Smith was born on October 7, 1957 in Kenova, West Virginia. He released his solo debut MICHAEL W. SMITH PROJECT in 1983 and followed it up with MICHAEL W. SMITH II in 1984. In 1986 he released one of my favourites, THE BIG PICTURE. THE LIVE SET, his fourth album, was released on Reunion Records in 1987. It was recorded in Iowa and Georgia, and curiously includes not one song from MICHAEL W. SMITH II. Michael’s band members are listed as being: David Huff (drums), Chris Rodriguez and Wayne Kirkpatrick (guitars), Chris Harris (bass), and Michael and Mark Heimermann (keyboards).
Starting this concert off is a soulful remake of Robert Lowry’s classic 1876 hymn ‘Nothin’ But the Blood’. It is about the atonement: “What can wash away my sins?/Nothing but the blood of Jesus/What can make me whole again?/Nothing but the blood of Jesus/This is all my righteousness/It’s nothing but the blood of Jesus”. ‘Lamu’ was written by Michael, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Amy Grant. It is the album’s longest track at almost 8.5 minutes and is a great experimental rock song! It reminds us that earthly pleasures don’t ultimately satisfy: “So here we are on an island in the sea near the coast of Africa/And when it’s right, Lamu nights/They can be so inviting/Heaven here on earth/Oh, I hear you telling me this is everything you need/Well, I don’t think it’s true/Cause the way you feel isn’t real/You attempt to try and fill the void that’s digging through and it’s killing you when you run to Lamu/Far away”.
‘You’re Alright’ is an energetic rocker about struggles with self-esteem: “Down on your confidence/It’s a fight that won’t let go/But you’ve got to realize/That you’re alright/Cause under your rubble/Lies a heart the Father holds/And when you see your life through His eyes/You’re alright”. ‘Could He Be The Messiah’ is one of four songs on this album co-written by Michael and his wife Debbie Smith. It is told from the perspective of a contemporary of 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, still He’s saying/’God feed them all’/5000 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’”.
‘Rocketown’ has a long tropical music instrumental introduction and then places Jesus in a contemporary scenario: “The drinks were 2 for 1 inside the crowded bars/The girls would make their run out on the boulevard..../There came a certain man, a stranger to the crowd/We didn’t understand what He was all about/He walked a different pace/So out of place in Rocketown.../He said it’s in the heart, this change that comes to be/Now He had done His part/The choice was up to me”. ‘Emily’ is a beautiful ballad that was later recorded in a studio setting for 1990’s GO WEST YOUNG MAN. It encourages young gals: “You going through this stage/It’s a restless age and young and insecure/But still, there are doubts to fade/Moments to be made and one of them is yours/On the wire/Balancing your dreams/Hoping ends will meet their means/But you feel alone, uninspired/Well, does it help you to know that I believe in you/You’re an angel waiting for wings-Emily”.
‘I Know’, another new song, was released to radio as a single. Christians in the public education system will be able to relate to these lyrics: “Everybody’s talkin’ about a good time/Something tells you something isn’t right/But when you’re lonely and the pressure’s on you/It’s really hard to stand and fight/Well, I know, I know how you feel/Torn between the mind of the crowd and the matters of the heart”. ‘Friends’ is, of course, Smitty’s signature, heart tugging ballad: “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”.
‘Old Enough to Know’ is a wonderful pop song that speaks out against pre-marital sex: “In the passion your heart is abused/He is pushing you, you have to choose/Oh, Rebecca love is never easy anymore/Oh, Rebecca so afraid of losing what is yours.../You’re a breed of few and far between/Holding on to your romantic dream/Oh, Rebecca, love is patient/Love would understand/Oh, Rebecca, your decision is your only chance”. ‘Pursuit of the Dream’ is one of five songs here penned by the duo of Michael and Wayne Kirkpatrick. It offers this advice to young folks: “Break down the barriers but don’t bend the rules/Never forget your roots as you head for something new/Ride through the shades of desire/Letting the light be seen/And He’ll steer the heart in the pursuit of the dream”.
‘Be Strong and Courageous’ is a pop/rock song that draws inspiration from the Old Testament: “My servant, now your time has come/You’ve got a job to do/I have a people to be led/And a willing heart in you/So I give you strength and courage/And I’ll hide you in My hands/For Joshua, you gotta live for your call/Take my people to their land/So be strong and courageous”. Last up is ‘You Need a Saviour’. It clearly points out our main need as humans: “You really need a Saviour/Somehow you’ve known it all along/You really need a Saviour/You know you’ve heard it for so long/You really need a Saviour/Someone to come and lead you on/You need a Saviour (2X)/It’s time”.
At the time of its release, the concert THE LIVE SET was essentially a greatest hits package with three new songs. The crowds are enthusiastic on this dandy album! The songs exalt Jesus Christ and encourage young people to give Him their all and live totally for Him. If you long for the days when Smitty could rock out, this project is for you. I’m rating THE LIVE SET 90%. For more info visit: www.michaelwsmith.com.