BRAD SMITH/ABANDON JALOPY - by Greg Prato It's been a while since we last heard from Brad Smith's solo project, Abandon Jalopy. However, since AJ's 2002 debut, 'Mercy,' Mr. Smith hasn't been just sitting on his keister the entire time, as he's been busy getting his recording studio, Studio Wishbone, up and running, producing other acts, as well as recording and touring with Unified Theory and a reunited Blind Melon. But now, it's time for Smith to return back to the Jalopy, as a long-awaited sophomore effort, 'Death and Joy,' has been released. 'The first Abandon Jalopy record, I think I played three shows in Seattle,' recalls Smith. 'They all went really well, so I figured, 'OK, I'm going to do this.' But then Christopher and I formed Unified Theory, so I put AJ on hold. After Unified Theory disbanded, I got into producing for a few years, and then we made another run at Blind Melon with a new singer in 2007. It kept me from standing on my own as a singer and songwriter. But after Blind Melon ended the second time, it left me with a lot of songs on the burner and something to say. So I coaxed myself - 'Come on, Brad, get the Jalopy out of the garage!' It seems as if there was always reasons not to pursue AJ, but at this moment, I'm like, 'I've made a record, I'm going to tour, and the chips are going to fall where they may.' I've been writing songs since I was 16. I don't have a 'race car' like Shannon Hoon to sing them anymore, so it's time for me to step up.' The result is an eleven-track recording that certainly picks up where AJ's debut left off. With Smith handling vocal and bass duties throughout, the album also features contributions from Blind Melon's guitar tandem of Christopher Thorn and Rogers Stevens, as well as guitarist Kevin Haaland (who has played with Brooke White and other 'American Idol' artists) and drummer Jimmy Paxson (who is a member of Stevie Nicks' band). And for Smith, several tracks certainly stand out. 'I wrote this song called 'Death and Joy,' and it's about family and growing up, and realizing that life is one of those spots right in the middle of death and joy. You're not always elated, and you're only dead one time. So life is really like all these little small things that at the time, don't seem to really mean that much. I just had an epiphany about what life is, and it made me relax and appreciate what is happening right now, with me and my family and upbringing.' ''I Won't Be the Same' is definitely about Shannon [Hoon, Blind Melon's original/late singer]. I don't think there's any mystery there. I have a feeling that for each of my AJ records, there's going to be one song on there about Shannon, just because I think about him every day. Especially in a studio and writing scenario. Back in the Blind Melon days, I would always write songs and would hear Shannon singing my songs in my head as I was writing them. It's one of those things that shaped me as a young writer, and I can't get away from it. I'm always thinking about him, so there's going to be at least one song on every record about how much I miss Shannon, or at least one little thing that was really important to me during those years with him.' And another song that holds a special place in Smith's heart is 'Love Has A Way,' as Hoon's daughter, Nico Blue Hoon, joined Smith in the studio. 'She sang the background vocals on that. Her voice is so sweet. She comes out to California and visits Kim [Smith, Brad's wife] and I every summer. She's so big now - she's 16 and beautiful. And she's starting to ask me questions about her dad. I feel like I can tell her stuff about her dad without overstepping or being too sensitive about how it's going to affect her for the rest of her life - she's a young lady now. So I can tell her all these endearing things about how important Shannon was to me, to Blind Melon, and as it turns out, the world. While she was here, I had just finished writing 'Love Has A Way,' so I asked her to sing with me. It was a great moment.' From here on out, it appears as though Abandon Jalopy will be Smith's main musical focus. 'This is my second record in ten years, and I plan on releasing these pretty regularly now. I have enough confidence, I feel like I have enough to say. I like the idea of being completely independent of other band members. This is something I want to leave behind for the world. It might be an overly romantic view, but it's really the only thing that I have to contribute to the world that's worth anything. When you get older, you start thinking about, 'How are you contributing to the world or society?' Abandon Jalopy is probably my best foot forward, in that regard.' With further recordings and live dates on the horizon, this Jalopy has plenty of fuel left in the tank. ''Abandon Jalopy' is such a fitting name for my project, because I keep stalling and not wanting to face myself. Abandon Jalopy is one of those phrases that makes me feel like I should go out there and work on 'the car,' and finally get it off the ground.' -Greg Prato.