By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
The fact that women prefer sensitivity to sexuality is well documented. After all, it wasn't that long ago that Woody Allen was People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive. Classic singer-songwriters such as James Taylor and Jackson Browne, meanwhile, have built reputations based upon their ability to thoughtfully assess situations, both romantic and otherwise.
Which brings us to Eric Hutchinson and Corey Smith, two 27-year-old singer-songwriters from vastly different backgrounds who ply their craft in disparate genres. But what they do have in common, besides their age, is the ability to express themselves quite caringly, and without sounding like saps.
To find out how, we ran Hutchinson and Smith through a scientifically based survey aimed to help determine which of them is indeed the more sensitive singer-songwriter.
Contestant No. 1
Eric Hutchinson is a rather hunky singer, originally from Washington, D.C., who now resides in—where else—New York City.
"I don't see that many singer-songwriters in New York these days," says Hutchinson, tongue firmly planted in cheek.
He's been compared to everyone from Stevie Wonder to Cat Stevens, but the singer's angular pop-soul comes across more like a hyper-kinetic Ben Folds. His sophomore effort, Sounds Like This, was originally to be released by Madonna's Maverick label in 2006, but legal snafus forced Hutchinson to extricate himself from the contract and delayed for a year what turned out to be his best set of songs.
Somehow, though, Sounds Like This caught the ear of gossip maven Perez Hilton, who raved about the album on his Web site. And that one mention sent the effort onto the top 10 of iTunes' most-downloaded album charts. Hutchinson doesn't care how he got the attention. He's just grateful to have it.
"Some people on the outside might not like that kind of promotion," says Hutchinson. "For me, it's been really great, and all it really means is exposure—just like anything else, just letting people know about my music."
Poised for still-bigger things, Hutchinson admits to having a sentimental side, but doesn't want it to overpower his other emotions.
"You can always get a little precious with your own material," says Hutchinson. "You never want to take yourself too seriously."
Handsome, fashionable and offhandedly detached, Hutchinson would appear to be a shoo-in for the title of Mr. Sensitive.
Contestant No. 2
Down-to-earth and robust, Corey Smith is Georgia-bred and claims to be inspired by George Jones, Nirvana and Tupac. But Smith's music is hardly as gruesome as that trio of influences might indicate.
More akin to the alt-country musings of Steve Earle, but with a slightly more earnest bent, Smith was a high school social studies teacher before he made music his full-time job. And, like Hutchinson, Smith's career has benefited greatly by the Internet, with blogs and e-mails generating a cross-country buzz for his songs.
His most recent effort, Hard-Headed Fool, is a set of rowdy country sing-alongs and tender folk ballads. Meanwhile, "I'm Not Gonna Cry," a track from an earlier release, has the notoriety of being chosen as the graduation anthem at more than 200 schools in Smith's home state. If that's not sentimental, then Cheney and Bush ain't oilmen.
"I hope that my songs are authentic like traditional country," says Smith. "I want my songs to be honest and real."
Honest and real—that's sensitive, right?
Maybe, but how about this: Possibly Smith's best-known track is "Twenty-One," a song off his debut, Undertones, in which he tells the tale of a young man and his desire to understand himself. And it's pretty much autobiographical.
"I don't have it all figured out," says Smith. "Musicians aren't the only ones who have to deal with life."
Wow. That's heavy and sensitive.
Here's the quiz (points are awarded on the standard scale, with 10 being a tenderhearted schmuck and 0 being a callous jerk):
1. Do you often feel the pain of others?
Hutchinson: Sometimes. It's weird. I'll feel more for the people I don't know. (9)
Smith: All the time. I went to South Africa in December and worked with an AIDS awareness group. I am definitely a bleeding heart. (10)
2. Does reading between the lines come easily to you?
H: Yes, very much so. (7)
S: Yes, it's almost a burden. I'm very skeptical and cynical, and I'm always looking for someone's angle. (8)
3. Do you search for answers, pondering the why to life's circumstances?
H: Yes, unfortunately. That's what I'm trying to do with my songs. (7)
S: Almost to a fault, almost to the point of it being a liability. (8)
4. Are you an animal lover?
H: Animals are cool. I like some of them. I'm not going to murder one. (4)
S: I tolerate animals. I don't wish any harm to animals. (5)
5. Do you have hermit qualities, preferring solitude over social gatherings?
H: There are times that I don't want to be around anybody. (9)
S: I actually prefer social gatherings. (5)
6. Is caregiving a natural response you give to anyone hurting?
H: I like to think so. (3)
S: I'm grossed out too easily. (2)
7. Do you cry easily while watching movies depicting violence or tragedy?
H: No, not that much. I mean, I like sensitive movies, but I like smart films. (5)
S: No. (1)
8. Do you consider yourself in harmony with nature?
H: Probably not. I'm trying to get there. I don't have birds landing on me. (2)
S: Rarely. (1)
9. Are you a good listener and compassionate to the needs of others?
H: I like to think so, but who doesn't? (5)
S: I think so. You might have to ask my wife. (5)
10. If your girlfriend/wife says she has PMS, you.....
H: Stay out of her way. (4)
S: Leave! Find a gig. (1)
11. A pretty girl walks by and your wife/girlfriend catches you looking. You....
H: Tell her "That girl was hot!" (0)
S: I don't look. (10)
The Final Tally: Hutchinson 55, Smith 56.
By a nose, Smith is the more sensitive of the two—although neither is exactly what you'd call a 16th-century troubadour.
Still, for listeners searching for keen observations with just the right balance of romanticism and machismo, you could do far worse than Hutchinson and Smith's shows.
Besides, you'd probably hurt their feelings if you didn't check out their concerts.