Sam Smith doesn’t have a time machine, at least not in a literal sense.
But his ability to transcend the decades - musically speaking - has been a key to his swift rise to international stardom. It may also be the reason Smith beat out Beyoncé, Pharrell Williams and Taylor Swift in February to win a field-leading four Grammy Awards - including Song and Record of the Year - at the Grammy Awards.
Recently turned 23, this English-bred pop sensation specializes in impeccably crafted songs that evoke the sound and style of some of the classic American R&B balladeers of the 1960s.
Smith’s favorites include Etta James and Aretha Franklin. He was also greatly inspired by Frank Sinatra, whose 1958 classic, “Come Fly With Me,” was the first song Smith learned when he began his jazz vocal lessons at he age of nine.
At his best, as on his chart-topping tale of unrequited love, “Stay With Me,” Smith sounds like an old soul in a young body. Make that, an old soul with a heavenly voice, a broad range - including a supple falsetto - and note-perfect delivery. The first two hits on which he made an impact as a guest singer before signing a solo deal, Disclosure’s “Latch” and Naughty Boy’s “La La La,” only hinted at what he is capable of on his own.
Smith, who makes his San Diego headlining debut Tuesday at Valley View Casino Center, has been hailed as the “male Adele.”
This is not, however, because Ben Thomas, Adele’s guitarist is in Smith’s band, or because one of Smith’s three managers, former singer Elvin Smith (no relation), was once Adele’s opening act. Nor is it because two of Adele’s collaborators, Eg White and Fraser Smith, served as song writers and producers on Smith’s 2014 debut album, “In The Lonely Hour.”
Rather, it’s because - like Adele - Smith specializes in songs of heartbreak that showcase both emotional depth and note-perfect precision. His flawless delivery is one of his strong suits. It’s also a potential artistic weakness, at least in concert.
Smith worked six days a week cleaning toilets in a London bar, before turning to singing full time. That he doesn’t indulge in flashy vocal acrobatics on stage is to his credit. But he also doesn’t take any of the musical risks that can distinguish one concert from the next by an artist - and great artists from very promising ones.
Moroever, because he has barely three years of performing experience under his belt, Smith has yet to develop the stagecraft of a seasoned professional. With time, and more than one album and a few tours to draw from, he should be able to hone his craft and elevate his already accomplished level of artistry.
Sam Smith, with Gavin James
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Valley View Casino Center, 3500 Sports Arena Blvd., Midway District
Tickets: $35-$85 (plus service charges)
Phone: (888) 929-7849