Although the first solo single from soul-inspired, London-born artist Sam Smith was issued in early 2013, it was his soaring vocal contribution to Disclosure’s October 2012 U.K. garage track “Latch” that brought him to most people’s attention. For most of his teens, Smith balanced study with music, soaking in the raw and passionate approach to performance exemplified by his favorite artists at that time such as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Chaka Khan. “Latch” hit the upper reaches of the U.K. singles chart when Smith was 21, and many were surprised when his debut solo track took a more tempered path. The production on February 2013’s “Lay Me Down” — also courtesy of the ordinarily dancefloor-focused duo Disclosure — recalled the stripped-back material that had proved successful for Adele in the preceding years. Next, Shahid Khan — aka Naughty Boy — decided to follow his Emeli Sandé-fronted U.K. Top Ten hit “Wonder” with the infectious, Bollywood sample-driven “La La La.” Featuring Smith’s powerful lead vocal, it became an instant May 2013 U.K. number one single following his spring tour in support of Sandé. That October he issued the Nirvana E.P., which included an acoustic reading of “Latch,” and by the end of February 2014 he was at the top of the U.K. singles chart once again with “Money on My Mind,” an infectious track that inventively married his relaxed vocal with a frenetic beat. Smith’s debut full-length, In the Lonely Hour, is expected that May 14.
Those expecting to hear the garage bounce of that Disclosure collab on his new album, are likely to be surprised to find Smith crooning blue-eyed soul – his first song featured a small gospel choir, the second was backed only by piano and cello – during the SNL broadcast. His own releases – even the Disclosure-produced “Together” – sound more like this than the club music he has become associated with, evening earning comparisons to Adele.