In 2006 a new indie soul/pop singer-songwriter quickly seduced me with her sophisticated sound and amazing talent -- registering like a more refined Christina Aguilera, and a sultrier Beyoncé. But after months, then years, of repeated listens to her marvelous tour-de-force debut album, I grew eager to hear new material. Or even just, you know, news about her. But instead it was all quiet on the Alice Smith front.
Smith slyly references the seven-year wait and delayed gratification that is her new second release "She" from the moment you hit play.
’’Where are you going with your life? What kind of chances will you take?’’ Smith sings a cappella on ’’Cabaret Prelude.’’ ’’If you just give me the night, I promise not to let you go astray. And forever, we’ll be rising.’’
The thing is, Alice Smith may have an utterly common name that’s a bit hard to remember. And years of conflict with the music industry and her former label Sony/Epic, which is still holding up release of her long-ago completed sophomore album, has only hurt her plea for attention. Still, once you give her a night, she makes good on her promise -- and then some. Because as great as 2006’s "For Lovers, Dreamers and Me" was, She is an astonishing collection of 10 songs, all but one Smith wrote or co-wrote, charting the ups and downs and ins and outs of love, even just friendship, with musical twists and lyrical turns as sharp and surprising as they come.
Smith sings about letting loose and living in the moment -- which she imaginatively compares to chasing and stressing over unattainable Hollywood dreams -- on jaunty first single ’’Cabaret.’’ Later comes ’’Loyalty,’’ a thoroughly sweet-sounding little ditty -- until you pay attention to the lyrics. ’’Don’t take for granted, my loyalty,’’ she sings in the chorus. And then in the bridge she leads a chorus chanting ’’friends, no, more,’’ before she coos 10 times, ’’We’re not friends no more’’ to end the song. It’s impossibly pretty, which makes the kiss-off sting that much more.
But Smith sings mostly about being happy in love and life, a reflection of her own reality. In the past few years, the D.C.-reared singer has mothered a child and made a home in Brooklyn with indie hip-hop sensation Citizen Cope. In ’’Ocean’’ she compares her lover to a great body of water, washing over and drowning her. ’’I never dreamed you were the ocean, and you bathed me in devotion,’’ she sings sweetly. Even more winsome is ’’With You,’’ in which Smith realizes she’s ready to commit. ’’I don’t want to waste another day, I just want to be with you,’’ she sings as the band echoes her dawning lyrical revelation. The old-soul song oozes propulsive passion as it ends. Smith follows that with a wondrous cover of Cee-Lo’s intense, rapturous ’’Fool For You,’’ making it her own.
By set’s end, Smith returns to the agony and ecstasy that has been her career and especially her recent seven-year itch of troubles. ’’Nobody knows what it’s been like,’’ she sings on the powerful title track, ’’to have a song inside to sing -- and nobody’s listening.’’
’’[She] had a power that they tried to tame -- couldn’t tame her,’’ Smith continues, before belting out her anthemic battle cry. ’’Can’t you hear me? I’m she, she, she!’’
Five out of five stars.
DOWNLOAD THESE: ’’She,’’ ’’With You,’’ ’’Fool For You.’’