Clifton Park native Matt Smith is returning to the Capital Region for a series of shows celebrating eight new albums and 10 re-releases.
Needless to say, the musician and teacher, who resides in Austin, Texas, has been busy.
Starting Wednesday, he’s performing a four-day round of shows. Wednesday and Thursday will be at Putnam Place in Saratoga Springs, Friday is at The Strand Theater in Hudson Falls and Saturday’s is at Pauly’s Hotel in Albany.
While Smith hasn’t lived locally for more than two decades, he’s maintained strong relationships in the area.
“I have so many lifelong friends from up there and my band, who I’m playing with, was always based there. They’re all well-known Capital District musicians and for me, it was really the birthplace of my career, where everything happened and where I kind of developed and formed,” Smith said.
Growing up, Smith’s home was filled with instruments. He comes from a long line of musicians on his father’s side of the family and he’s still using some of the guitars that his family had passed down from generation to generation.
“There were always guitars around and it just resonated instantly from the first time I picked one up,” Smith said.
He was largely self-taught and after graduating from Shenendehowa High School at 17, he ventured out to San Francisco, where many of his favorite bands like Santana and the Grateful Dead were rooted in, and worked as a street musician for a few years.
“Really what I did was I played guitar for ten hours a day,” Smith said. “I learned a lot.”
That included the ability to sense how his audience was feeling and to trust his instincts.
“That’s informed everything that I’ve done since then,” Smith said.
In the ensuing years, Smith moved back to the Capital Region and performed with local bands and formed his own, called The Matt Smith Band and Matt Smith’s World, and taught at local music shops. At the age of 30, he moved to New York City.
“I had reached a certain peak of what I could accomplish there in Albany and then I basically moved to New York to get my butt kicked because I needed to move to a bigger place to grow. And when I first moved to New York City I got my butt kicked but after 15 years I learned. I played with some of the finest musicians in the world and started touring internationally and came into myself,” Smith said.
Some of those musicians included B.B. King, Sheryl Crow and Trey Anastasio.
When his parents moved out to Austin several years ago, Smith decided to follow to spend more time with them. It didn’t hurt that the music scene there was growing. Since putting down roots there, he’s opened a recording studio called 6 String Ranch with fellow musician Bill Kaman. It focuses on both established and upcoming songwriters, including Robben Ford, David Grissom Redd Volkaert, Bill Kirchen and Ed Gerhard.
For the last decade, he’s also worked with at-risk youth in Austin, helping to create a recording studio for Phoenix Academy, a drug and alcohol rehab facility for youths age 13-17.
“It helped me get out of my own head, which was really important. I realized I was never comfortable with my life being about me. I was much more fulfilled by helping other people,” Smith said.
He turns his focus on others in “Being Human,” the flagship record of the new albums. It’s about four years in the making and many of the songs reflect on the human condition, looking through the lens of current issues, like immigration and political fundamentalism, as well as timeless themes like narcissism.
“Down in the Hole,” one of the tracks on the album, speaks to the feelings of isolation that can go hand-in-hand with depression and drug use.
“How We Got to Here” drives home the importance of paying attention to and appreciating the country’s democratic process.
“There’s a number of songs that are fairly political but also some great rock and roll songs,” Smith said.
He released it last year, in the midst of the pandemic. Unlike many musicians, Smith’s daily routine didn’t change all that much and he was just as busy, recording projects for other bands and a few of his own.
That includes rereleasing “Parlor,” a solo acoustic instrumental album recorded with an 1890s Thompson and Odell parlor guitar, one that’s been passed down through Smith’s family four generations.
Then there’s “Chop Shop – Live at Strange Brew,” an improvisational album Smith recorded with Ed Friedland and Bryan Austin. “Matt Smith’s World – Live at the Saxon Pub” is another new release, featuring establish Austin-based musicians. His four digital rereleases track the development of his career from 1988 through 2020.
“The most important thing for any artist is to never stop growing and never stop evolving. I think I’ve been evolving over the years, both as a human being and as an artist because I think that goes hand in hand,” Smith said.
The albums are available on most music platforms and Smith said he hopes that the songs make listeners smile and give them something to think about.
“The simplest thing to do is to try to spread light and positivity to those around you. Don’t forget to say a kind word to people or reach out to a friend, reach out to a loved one that you haven’t talked to in a while and just check in with them,” Smith said. “Those are the things that I’m trying to say with those particular records.”
For the upcoming shows, he’ll perform with Tony Perrino, Chris Peck, Pete Sweeney, Brian Melick and Charlie Tokarz.
Here’s a glance at the upcoming concert schedule for Matt Smith’s World:
8 p.m. Wednesday, Sep. 8 and Thursday, Sep. 9 at Putnam Place.
8 p.m. Friday, Sep. 10 at The Strand Theater. Tickets are $15.
8 p.m. Saturday, Sep. 11 at Pauly’s Hotel. Tickets are $10.
Beyond the concerts, he’ll also host a songwriting workshop at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Wicked in Clifton Park.