Review Summary: Whether it revolves around reassuring pop anthems or bitter break-up ballads, She is a deeply sincere soul record.
There's something horribly wrong with large record labels. In 2007 Brooklyn-based singer Alice Smith signed to Epic Records that re-released her critically acclaimed debut For Lovers, Dreamers & Me
, yet despite a Grammy nomination Epic refused to support her recording music, or even touring. After many years of “unrealistic and imposed expectations,” she finally came up with her second record that in turn was rejected by the label. In the face of such discouraging events, many artists would give up making music altogether. However, Alice kept her career afloat constantly composing and performing on stage. Another step was starting a kickstarter campaign to finance the recording sessions for her new album. In consequence, She
is an independently released affair that most definitely wouldn't exist without the overwhelming support of the artist's fans.
Alice is clearly a more experienced person than she used to be six years ago, and that finds its perfect reflection on She
, a more mature album than its robust predecessor. The vocalist tends to use her impressive four-octave voice with soul-minded intensity and jazz-laden prowess. The subtle keys-based arrangements allow her to be in the spotlight most of the time. Her genuine talent gets revealed as soon as a 40-second a cappella introduction for “Cabaret” makes its presence felt. It's easily the best track on the album retaining an ideal balance between infectiousness and sophistication, accentuated by a resplendent operatic bridge. In addition, the lines: “I see no reason for chasing/In Hollywood, got to lose my patience” in the song's vigorous chorus make it feel relevant, closely corresponding to the singer's unwillingness to compromise her artistic integrity.
Further on, Alice expands her deeply personal take on soul music with the assistance of Rebecca Jordan, Reginald Perry and Syience. The ballads they craft are decidedly diverse in style though. “Ocean” contrasts gorgeous folk-derived verses with a bit too lightweight chorus, while piano-driven “Another Love” is a bitter, if painfully honest break-up song that finds Alice at her most earnest and resigned. Plenty of tunes overflow with grace that defines old soul music. The wonderfully subdued rumble of “Shot” is juxtaposed with dignified “Loyalty,” a superb throwback to the 1960s that wears the Etta James leanings on its sleeve. Another highlight is the elusive title track which ends the disc on a reassuring note with its darkly-tinged production. On the other hand, the sole cut that feels redundant is the Cee Lo Green cover, “Fool For You.” Even though the song borrowed from The Lady Killer
is amazing, the reasoning behind its inclusion without any alterations to the original version seems questionable at best.
It's safe to say that Alice Smith won't achieve commercial success with She
: it's too refined to be appreciated by masses, and seems best suited to be experienced in an intimate setting. As minimalist as its approach may be, the album bursts with sincerity the singer is renowned for. After all, it's not only a testament to her sheer persistence as an artist, but also a powerful soul record that showcases her remarkable vocal talent with a concise collection of expertly performed songs.