Working on his new album, “Only Love,” Jordan Smith came to an important realization.
“Something I had to come to terms with is that I am a younger person,” Smith says from his home base in Harlan. “I have a lot of fans from all different walks of life, all different ages. But ultimately, I am a young guy, and this album has definitely taken on a younger, more current sound, in my opinion, because of that searching that I did, because of that process of figuring out who I was and realizing that was part of it.”
It might seem surprising that a 24-year-old in a youth-oriented business is having to come to grips with his age, but Smith, a self-described “old soul” admits his music up until this album has trended a bit older. After all, he became known to millions of viewers as the winner of Season 10 of “The Voice,” frequently singing songs that were hits before he was born.
His subsequent debut album, “Something Beautiful,” included venerable classics such as “Over the Rainbow” and “You are so Beautiful,” which was a hit for Joe Cocker in 1975.
So it may be a bit of a surprise that when you hit play on his sophomore effort — save for the 2016 holiday album “’Tis the Season” — that the head starts bobbing and toes start tapping on songs like “Love Her Better,” “Burn It All Down” and the soul-soaked “Feel Good.”
Smith attributes a good portion of the album’s groove to producer RedOne, known for work with Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj, for giving his sound a more pop sheen. He also says it was simply good to get away from the post-”Voice” portion of his career.
“The first album happened in that whirlwind that I was riding at that moment,” Smith says. “It was like, get it done, get it out. Do whatever is necessary to make this thing in time.
“With this one, it was really important for me to step away and really define who I was as an artist, as a songwriter, as a musician, because I don’t really feel like I’ve had a chance to do that, yet. ... For me, it’s really important to figure out what’s floating around inside of me — what sort of music that is, what lyrics those are, and get that down on paper and really make this about me, and make this something that defines me, and take a little time to do that.”
Smith co-wrote half of the dozen songs on the album and says it was rewarding and affirming to work with seasoned songwriters.
The biggest affirmation was not necessarily the album, but having superstar Celine Dion record his song “Ashes” for the “Deadpool 2” soundtrack. Not only that, but in the video, Deadpool himself performed an interpretive dance to the song — you just have to see it.
The experience gave Smith the “mind blowing” experience of going to hear Dion sing his song in Las Vegas, but it also mines a familiar vein of inspirational music for Smith, which he says may be another reason he was trending older than his years.
“I always have an inspirational message in my music, and I want music to change people, to move people and uplift people,” Smith said. “On this record, I think I found a balance to not just say uplifting things, but make music that people can relate to.”
That was definitely his mission on the title cut, with the chorus, “Only love, only love can save us now, Keep the world from burning down ... Only love, can look inside a human heart, And see us for who we are, And who we are would be enough.”
“I feel like my songs are like my children, and ‘Only Love’ is like that precious baby that you have,” Smith says.
He acknowledges that cultural and political messages can be read into the song, but says that is the opposite of his intent.
“The special thing is it doesn’t take any sides,” Smith says. “I don’t want this to be a song that any side can use against the other to say, ‘this is what you should do’ or ‘this is how you should be,’ this is what we’re doing right and you’re doing wrong.’
“This song is about what happens at the end of everything. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, all we really have is love for each other, and love will keep us and carry us. The love of God is the only thing that will keep us and carry us.”
Ultimately, Smith feels like he’s hitting a stride with the new album, which hits stores and streaming Friday, and his career, which sees him spending most of his time in Harlan or Los Angeles.
“I wanted to make something that’s timeless and that’s real music,” Smith says. “It wasn’t until this album that I realized I could do both: I can have that young sound, because I am young, and I can be in touch with that younger person and still create something that is meaningful and inspiring and uplifiting and moves people when they hear it, even if that movement is dancing.”