Hot Grrrls, Cool Music - ALICE SMITH
Last night I finally had a chance to browse through this month's Fader when I stumbled on a feature about Alice Smith. I've known about Alice for a minute and have seen her perform several times, but the last time I saw her back in October at Joe's Pub, the performance left me feeling really troubled and I couldn't put my finger on why.
Her past shows were mostly soulful, funked-up jazz joints and this show was advertised to be more of the same, but as soon as Alice took the stage I knew something different was about to go down. Her band was totally new and looked like a cross between the Doobie Brothers and The Partridge Family. Now this wouldn’t have been all that bad if they had the chops to back up Alice whose got this quirky sensuality, a sorta geeky diva thing that makes her really hard to ignore when she’s on the stage. She’s like one of those kids from that spelling bee movie, um.. Spellbound, who is so self-aware and nervous, but smart and even inadvertently comical. That’s Alice who’s also got some of Fiona Apple’s attitude and Amel Larrieux’s boheme sexiness. So when she launched into her new material, which was more pop and PJ Harvey than soul and Goapele, I was surprised. Her voice however was as strong and brilliant as ever. I really liked most of the songs, even really loved a few, but something left a bad taste in my mouth that left me walking down 8th Street feeling disappointed. I went with my boy Todd and he too felt the same way and said that her band was really too blame. “No one that fine and fly should be backed by a guitarist that non-rhythmic and a back-up a singer that looks and sounds like Holly Hobbie.” I’m paraphrasing him a bit but you get the point-- there was mad incongruity!
But after reading the more than splendid feature of Alice in Fader it made want to do a bit more digging and so to myspace I went. While there I listened to four of her tracks and was so completely impressed, especially with Dream. So without the visuals of a very unsightly band, (yes a band’s physical style matters almost as much as their musical style and skills—see The Roots or Prince’s Revolution or Sade’s Sweetback if you doubt me), I was able to enjoy Alice once again. Although I still think the production could be a hell of a lot better, I was still juiced and immediately downloaded two songs and sent a request to her label for a review copy of her upcoming CD. Lil’ Miss Alice will be performing this Sunday in NYC on the LES so if you get a chance (and it's a free show), check her out and you be the judge, just make sure you hit me back with your thoughts. Yo, it’s 70 degrees outside… I’m out!