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A recovering Sam Smith talks — well, emails — about his love for singing

Three shows into his big summer comeback, Sam Smith has exciting news to share:

"I feel like I'm singing more powerfully than I ever have in my life."

These are words his fans have been waiting weeks to hear, even if, technically speaking, he didn't actually say them out loud. Smith's message came to the Times via email, in part because, as you may have heard, his voice these days is a precious but limited resource.

In April, Smith was on tour in Sydney, Australia, when he suffered a hemorrhage on his vocal cords, derailing the biggest year of his burgeoning career.

Smith, then 22, had nearly swept this year's Grammys, winning trophies for Record and Song of the Year (Stay With Me), Best Pop Vocal Album (In the Lonely Hour) and Best New Artist, and he was lined up to play arenas all over the world. He was a musical anomaly, an openly gay British soul singer whose prim, pasty appearance belied the confessional heartache of his gospel-tinged pop.

The hemorrhage put a full stop to Smith's victory lap, and thrust his career and future gigs — including his July 21 concert at Tampa's Amalie Arena — into question.

"My body basically told me to stop," Smith wrote.

For a singer of Smith's caliber, every vocal issue is a potential life-changer. In recent years, vocal maladies have forced singers like Adele (polyps), John Mayer (granuloma) and Meghan Trainor (vocal hemorrhaging) to put not only their careers but their speaking voices on hold.

During his recovery from surgery — performed, he said, by "the best vocal doctor in the world, who also operated on Adele and Julie Andrews" — Smith said he couldn't speak for three weeks and couldn't sing for nearly eight.

"The surgery wasn't painful at all," Smith wrote. "The painful part for me was the test period and having no choice but to stop." Even during recovery, he wrote, "I was never really in any pain, just discomfort at not doing what I love."

Smith has been singing since childhood, and producers were drawn to his uniquely soulful warble in his late teens. He first gained fame singing lead vocals on two EDM hits, Disclosure's Latch and Naughty Boy's La La La, but it was In the Lonely Hour — and particularly his own smash single Stay With Me, a swelling plea for intimacy from a man who's "not good at a one-night stand" — that won him legions of gob-smacked admirers.

"This was a white guy with this soulful voice, this Luther Vandross kind of feel, this honesty, this availability," said Rayvon Owen, who sang two Smith songs (Lay Me Down and I'm Not The Only One) on the past season of American Idol. "A lot of guys, we're like, 'We've got to be tough!' That's why he broke so huge, because it was different from what a lot of guys do."

The vocal surgery didn't diminish Smith's emotional openness; quite the contrary. He admits he's nervous about how his voice will hold up during the rest of this year's "very intense" touring schedule. He has more than 30 concerts lined up through the end of 2015, including top-shelf slots at festivals like Lollapalooza and Rock in Rio.

"It's going to be hard to get through it," he wrote. "My voice feels better than ever today; however, it's going to take a while for me to get my full confidence back."

But, he added, the experience has already informed him as an artist. It may even inspire new songs for his followup to In the Lonely Hour.

"I never sat back and realized how much I love music," Smith wrote. "And also how much my voice is an instrument. I always find myself thinking I'm less of a musician because I can't play anything. Now, I realize the voice is one of the most sacred instruments there is."

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

WE'VE GOT SET LIST SUGGESTIONS

Sam Smith's debut album In the Lonely Hour was such a smash hit, winning the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album and featuring ubiquitous singles like Stay With Me and I'm Not the Only One. Even if you're not sick of it, you might be wondering ... what else does Smith have to offer? We're still a long way from Smith's sophomore album, but here are three essential non-album tracks we're hoping he drops July 21 in Tampa.

Latch

Smith's big breakthrough was this 2013 hit by English dance duo Disclosure; it hung around the charts long enough to be joined in the top 10 by Smith's own single Stay With Me. That means we've all heard it. But which version is best? In concert, Smith is fond of playing the acoustic version that appears on bonus editions of In the Lonely Hour. It's lovely and all, but it lacks the icy, crackling electricity of the original. It'd be great to hear Smith get a little freaky and deliver the Disclosure version at Amalie Arena.

How Will I Know

It takes guts to cover Whitney Houston. And it takes immense talent to knock that cover out of the park. Smith did both when he reinvented Whitney Houston's exuberant 1985 single How Will I Know during a live session for SiriusXM, stripping the single to a soulful piano and its bittersweet lyrical core. A full studio version remains criminally unreleased, but Smith often performs it live, as he did during an episode of Austin City Limits earlier this year.

Omen

This one's a long shot, but at least it's timely. Disclosure announced last week they had reunited with Smith on a single from their forthcoming Caracal, due in September. Omen, co-written with Jimmy Napes (who also co-wrote Latch, Stay With Me and Clean Bandit's Rather Be), was set to debut this week, and if it's anywhere near as catchy as Latch, it could be a major force on late-summer party playlists. If Smith feels like debuting Omen live in Florida, we wouldn't complain.

Jay Cridlin

.if you go

Sam Smith

Smith performs with Gavin James at 8 p.m. July 21 at Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. Tickets are $32.50 and up. (813) 301-2500. amaliearena.com.

A recovering Sam Smith talks — well, emails — about his love for singing 07/14/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 14, 2015 11:22am]
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