Album Review: J Smith – (…) And You Chose Not To Laugh

(…) And You Chose Not To Laugh is delicately emotive debut album from J Smith, former lead singer of Gypsies on The Autobahn.

By Graeme Smith

Gypsies on The Autobahn were an Irish four-piece who released two records with Universal. J Smith’s solo debut hold takes things in a personal direction, written after a time of tragedy for he and his wife. The theme of grief runs through the album like an undertow that sweeps its often tumultuous musical sea along. At moments, it bubbles to the surface, spoken baldly and plainly, such as in the opening pair Eight Pounds and In The Death Of Something Beautiful. The latter has a particularly dramatic closing in which Smith declares “it’s a burden to know you deserve all the pain coming to you.” It’s heart-breaking.

Things mellow into the Radiohead-esque Blood Orange. There is still a simmering sense of anger there but also a desperation for reconciliation. A noodling guitar solo is a hopeful moment. It acts as a prelude to the reflective Rain, a track that contrasts past innocence, present pain and tentative expectations of the future. Smith has a knack for lyricism. His story is straightforward enough to follow but into it he injects moments that stick with you. In Rain the standout line is “love may be the only heaven that we’re allowed.” It says so much without being overwrought.

The theme of love is carried through to the acoustic, folksy Good Women. Accompanied initially by guitar, the arrangement slowly builds, with delicate harmonies and a brightly understated trumpet solo. Its gentleness is matched by the piano opening of Sunday, a track that will have you holding your breath so as to not break its stillness. I’m Sorry is similarly stripped back but takes things in an R&B direction. It has such an unexpected groove that it proves to be an album highlight.

At this point, the album is poised for an explosion and the climax of The Car somewhat delivers. Slowly building in tempo and complexity there’s a muted celebratory tone to it. Divine continues the job with electric guitar and fiery vocals before album closer Growing Older, an orchestrated tale of reconciliation, completes the arc.

Smith has poured so much genuine emotion into this album that I couldn’t help but feel alongside him. Yet, it’s his lyrics and attention to good storytelling that really makes it engaging. There’s conflict, highs and lows, and arcs within arcs. He’s a wonderful musician and thoughtful writer and this is a fantastic debut. Listen to (…) And You Chose Not To Laugh below.