It's been seven years since Alice Smith came out of nowhere in 2006 and released her debut album, For Lovers, Dreamers & Me. Seven years since Rolling Stone got it right by dubbing Smith as an "artist to watch" (and got it wrong to lazily compare her to Norah Jones and Alicia Keys). For two years after the release (and eventual re-release) of her debut, Smith was an artist that was everybody's eclectic darling. She couldn't be boxed in nor compared to such go-to stock musicians, and the best-friend-in-your-head quality of her music plus her sugar in the raw vocals reflected further that Smith was one of the unique ones. Yet, as quick as she arrived on the scene, she went MIA, but little did we know that the journey of Alice Smith was just getting warmed up.
Smith wasn't dozing on the job or hadn't hit a creative roadblock in her time away. In fact, she was still scribbling out new material, recorded with Aloe Blacc for the Red Hot Organization (2011's "Baby") and toured tirelessly building up a growing and eager following along the way. She even had time to squeeze motherhood into the schedule. Still, since For Lovers, Dreamers & Me was worth the hype it received, the clawing anticipation for its follow-up was evident.
As Smith resurfaced at various showcases and let out at a drip machine's pace songs like "Moving Lights," "Martha" and "Fire," unbeknownst to fans, she was embroiled in battle with Epic Records over her image and the artistic freedom she so desired. Fortunately she parted ways with the label, and flocked to the Internet to pump up a Kickstarter campaign, and after successfully raising enough donations, She came to be, and back in action Smith was.
Actually these career speed bumps were a blessing in disguise, as we wouldn't have the Alice Smith we hear on She. Smith still goes by her creed of oscillating between genres on the 11-track set, but this is a different Smith than on For Lovers, Dreamers & Me as she has an even firmer grip on the craft of song, and Smith's vocals are at their highest voltage ever.
The power of the female is in constant referral through the project, but in actuality the "I'm every woman" chant is all in encased in Smith's voice. Smith is her own production, the music here, yes, plays a role, but you're more interested in what Smith does vocally because she does some really eyebrow raising things, as her guttural voice swivels with proud assurance like the hips and legs of Tina Turner. With her instrument, she pretty much knocks you off your feet.
The best example of this fire is her rousing cover of CeeLo Green's "Fool For You" -- an old hat listen for those who heard the song way back when she spontaneously dropped it last year. On here it's revived and among the other tracks of She, "Fool For You" is just massive. Smith tears her way into the song and she is -- and I really hate to say this word because it is so 2008 passé now -- fierce. Mighty fierce to where CeeLo and Melanie Fiona maybe need to take a few steps back as she makes their original take pretty obsolete.
Smith always leaned into rock fare and I have no qualms that she had a healthy diet of the alternative '90's Lilith Fair brood as she zings off vigor that would make Alanis Morissette or Liz Phair proud. A prime example of this intensity is on the title track, which thrashes with punk astuteness as the cymbals crash and Smith's voice declares the battle cry of la femme. First single "Cabaret" opens the set in a flourish of animation while the piano laden "Another Love" keeps the pace. Smith gives some old school touches for numbers like the soulful rumble of "Shot" (one of my favorites here) and the Etta James nod on "Loyalty." The rousing "With You" even takes to task walls of '60's percussion and vocalizing charm.
Smith may go in like a lion, but she does have her tranquil lamb moments as second single, the buoyant "Ocean," is cradled in a lush tropical sway. "Be Easy" couldn't be more self-explanatory as it dreamily glides along, interrupting with jazz minded percussion just to jostle up the serenity. Single-worthy "The One" flows on some tender R&B, yet Smith can't stay docile for long cause even in her coos she stands her ground and repeats again and again, how she will not be taken for a fool.
She is actually more than just the return of Alice Smith -- it's validation that persistence and the craft of music are still viable and tangible entities, even in this world where quantity over quality abounds. Smith set out to not be boxed in or silenced, and she wanted to create an album that was all her and then some, and on She she accomplishes it wonderfully. Smith may not get all the accolades or have all the flashy artillery that makes a star these days, but she can rest easy knowing that being true to herself is more of a success story.