Corey Smith's music might remind listeners of something Homer once said -- Homer Simpson, that is: "Here's to alcohol! The cause of -- and solution to -- all of life's problems."
Quite a few tracks on Smith's new album, The Broken Record, find him reminiscing about all the debauchery of his collegiate years -- the drinking, the one-night stands, the wild nights on the beach. It's sort of like asking your fun uncle about his bachelor years.
That approach is especially true on "Twenty-One," an nostalgic ode to hanging out in bars all night with your friends and staggering to class -- "smelling just like a brewery with a bad hangover, too." The original version has been slightly updated from Smith's new perspective of middle class and age. At the end of the midtempo tune, he says with resignation, "Damn, I wish I was 21." He filmed the video on Clayton Street in the college town of Athens, Ga.
During a visit to CMT.com, Smith said, "There are references to beer drinking and partying, but the message is about continuity and change. It's about life and how we're always longing for something else. When we're kids, we want to be older because we want independence. We want to get away from our parents and make our own choices. And then when we get older, we look back and go, 'Wow, that was pretty cool when I was a kid and I actually had freedom.'"
Today, Smith connects his childhood and his adult years in a very obvious way. In spite of an active touring and music career, he's happily living in his quiet hometown of Jefferson, Ga., about 25 miles from Athens, where he attended college.
Although he says he "came out of his shell" in Athens, he cites Jefferson and nearby Dahlonega as the towns that nurtured his singer-songwriter aspirations.
"It's cool to still be there and have so much of my family there," he says. "Some of my best friends are there, and I still hang out with the same people I hung out with in high school. Our kids play together, and my kids go to the same school that I went to."
Smith admits, though, that home is not exactly the same as it used to be.
"Like the world in general, it's changing a lot. I like to think it's progress," he says. "But when I was a kid, we had one red light. We didn't have any McDonald's. We didn't have any sort of chain grocery store there. Now there's a bypass and several red lights. There are big subdivisions and we got a Kroger [grocery store] recently. That was a big deal. And we got all the fast food restaurants. It just comes with progress. And there are certainly some things I miss about the old Jefferson from when I was a kid, but that's part of growing up, I guess."
Smith is a former high school teacher who left the profession to pursue a full-time career as an independent musician. When the conversation turns to the advice he'd give to his students today, Smith goes deep.
"I'm a very idealistic person, always have been, but you must temper your idealism with reality," he says. "You might wish things were a certain way, but you're going to get out there and realize that the world is actually not that way. If you're going to change it, you've got to learn to operate within it. Keep your ideals in mind, but work to change it a little at a time -- and start with yourself."
If that wisdom sounds too complicated, he takes a more memorable approach in one of the album's funniest tracks, "I Love Everyone." His shout-outs go to black people, brown people, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, atheists and gays. It's a surprising and straightforward song from a guy who describes himself as "country-fried, washed in the blood and wrapped in camouflage."
Just like a conversation with the musician himself, The Broken Record nimbly skips from serious to lighthearted topics. Yet, if you go see him live, he says he's focused on one thing: making sure you're enjoying yourself.
"It's so precious to be able to forget about your worries for a little while and just have fun," he says. "And that's the power of music -- whether it's party music, dance music, gospel music or a love song. Music has the ability to sort of slap us in the face and take us to a different place for a minute. That's why I write music because that experience of writing it takes me to that place. Performing it takes me to that place. And I hope that that's happening with the crowd."