In April of this year Durham, NC held the first annual Art of Cool Festival. It’s a three-day event that ‘connects music and art to the people’. This was back in the early part of 2014 when I first caught wind of the show. I knew for sure I was going when I heard Bilal was going to be there. Then I discovered the rest of the line up and it was a wrap. While trying to gather my “crew” for the series of concerts I told my girl Nicole from What’s the Tea about it. She “yaaassed” at one artist in particular, Alice Smith. At this point my hair stylist and an old friend, both of whom have very similar interest in non-mainstream, but great music had mentioned Alice to me before. Since she was “opening” the show for Bilal, and had gotten much acclaim from my circle of ears I figured I’d find her. I’m glad I did.
Although she first came on the music scene in 2006 with her début album For Lovers, Dreamers & Me, it wasn’t released on a major label until 2007. The following year it was nominated for a Grammy in the now defunct Best Urban/Alternative Performance category. She had several projects shelved the years following. Last March she returned with the sophomore album She, with over half of the funding from fans. While many learned of her nearly a decade ago, She is where I came to appreciate her work.
Unknowingly I had heard her voice last year when making a playlist and looking up “Fool For You” by Ceelo Green. Smith recorded a version of the song for her 2013 album that certainly matched the intensity of the original. CeeLo had Phillip Bailey falsetto backing vocals to enhance and his sound and his musical arrangement lent to the fullness of his version. The depth in Alice’s take relies solely on the fullness of her vocals. Her lead voice is on 10 for the entire tune. I love this song in general, so it would be hard for anyone to mess it up.
Fool For You – Alice Smith
Fool For You – CeeLo Green
One of my favorite songs on the She project, “Another Love”, is a playfully mellow tune where Alice tells her lover to “move on” if he must. Despite the lyrics being somewhat harsh, she manages to convey them so nonchalantly. No matter how accusatory “Liar! Liar, you never wanted me that way” sounds, Smith’s tone along with the dancing piano riff, makes her seem indifferent to the message. Great talent recognizes great talent. Prince covered Alice Smith’s “Another Love” this past weekend on Saturday Night Live. His version was much more grittier than hers and he put his rocker sound on it, demanding the subject to find someone else.
Another Love – Alice Smith
Another Love- Prince
To me the highlight of her latest album is the very subtle “Be Easy”. She is just as laid back on this song as “Another Love” this is one of the best showcases of her voice. Her live performance of this song is FLAWLESS. The venue she played in Durham is a pretty small place as far as concerts go, however as an old church it’s rather decent size. Now imagine the acoustic in this space knowing it’s origins being a church. Even standing a good distance from the mic her voice filled every space of the Hayti Center. She plays with the dynamics of her voice so effortlessly. I do wonder who she studied. She seems to have a slight accent when she performs, that doesn’t align with her DC or Southern roots. I love it though. Her lyrics and many of her songs reflect her roots. I can’t put a finger on one specific thing about her live performance, she appears so calm and relaxed but her vocals are intense and passionate. As much as this is heard in her recorded music, seeing it just is an added bonus.
Be Easy – Alice Smith
The One – Alice Smith
The One (live at Art of Cool) – Alice Smith
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