Modern Femininity and Force: Alice Smith, She

By Daniel Garrett
Alice Smith, She
Rainwater/Thirty Tigers, 2013

With a ballad style query as an introduction, “Cabaret Prelude” begins Alice Smith’s album She, a sequel to her collection For Lovers, Dreamers & Me.  The song that follows, “Cabaret,” has a mixture of tempos but is mostly fast.  “Where are you going with your life?” asks the singer, the young and lovely Alice Smith, who has been a participant in the Black Rock Coalition, and a collaborator of singers Tamar Kali and Imani Coppola.  Smith has performed at the Highline Ballroom in New York and at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles.  In “Cabaret,” Smith asks the listener to join her in music and love.   It is an intimate plea that becomes energized, rhythmic.

Alice Smith’s collaborators on She are songwriters Rebecca Jordan and Reginald Perry; and some of the songs were produced by Reginald Perry and others by Alex Elena.

“Ocean” is mellow, a song of soul and thought, also of fancy.  Declarative, plain-spoken, feminine, with a shifting rhythmic structure, and delicate instrumentation, “Ocean” becomes infused with its own power.  It’s nice to have something as elemental as a guitar be part of the music; and to have the singer create call and response with her own voice, a voice that ranges over several octaves.   In “Another Love” a woman observes a man’s ambivalence and confronts him; and the song is a fast-paced march with clipped sung phrases (Smith’s voice, which can be delicate, wields heft and weight—force—in the song).  “Another Love” is about a conflicted relationship, allowing the singer a complex response—she is accusatory without being unpleasant.  There is momentum but not hysteria; with an orchestral texture.   “Find another love.  Move on,” Smith says.  Mostly sweet is “The One,” but there is a dramatic undercurrent of tension.  The notes are long, romantic in a well-paced song about new love, “The One.”  It can fit into the rhythm-and-blues ballad tradition without being predictable in lyric or sound.  Feminine, intelligently shrewd, and observant tones are in “Shot,” a song of unexpected love.  “Shot” uses a rumbling big beat, undergirding the softly inflected voice (and chanting chorus): in the song, shallow lovers are surprised by genuine emotion.  The lyric descriptions are increasingly recited with a certain discernible power.  The subtle inflections and shifts create a distinct sensibility, a sensibility of charm and reflection.  “Loyalty” is a first-person romantic lament, set at a country pace.  It has a slow, waltzing beat.  “With You” is shaded with warmth, intimacy; and, again, despite its love theme, it suggests something other than cliché.  That song, “With You,” a song with strings, a somewhat forlorn declaration of love, and other songs have a wonderful clarity of sound (music, voice) and text; and the singer’s voice is believably sincere and without melodrama.   “Fool for You,” written by Cee-Lo Green, is fierce, with big-voiced declarations of passion, and a heavy beat.  It’s a tough statement of overwhelming, even foolish love, over an intense beat.  The soothing “Be Easy,” with its little erupting swirls of music, repeats the word easy: swirls of concentration in sound, thought, and feeling.  The concluding song, the intensely soulful title song “She,” about the isolation of the artist, and the resilience of a woman, features the singer in a gutsy fury.   Alice Smith is able to be intelligent, sensitive, and strong, without losing femininity or being the victim of femininity.  Her album She is mostly love songs but the diversity of sound gives it something special.

Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today.  Daniel Garrett has written extensively about international film for Offscreen, and comprehensive commentary on music for The Compulsive Reader.