She is Alice Smith.
She is also the title of Alice Smith’s sophomore, March 2013 CD release. This was a project that Smith initiated through crowd funding (and financed half of the total) by raising $22,000 on Kickstarter.
And, SHE is a force of a nature.
What is unquestionably my favorite concert performance experience of the year, is the stunning, scintillating Alice Smith concert I saw Friday night at The Howard Theatre. If you have not heard of the woman behind the deeply textured, piercing vocal purity that can make a wine glass shatter, your soul rumble, and make your heart cry – don’t worry. This period is a rebirth. Alice Smith’s worldwide acclaim and resounding success are just a matter of time. She is an overlooked, Grammy-nominated, seven-years-in-the-making superstar that is just waiting to happen.
Alice Smith first CD debuted in 2006 with the critically acclaimed For Lovers, Dreamers & Me released on UK based, BBE Records. (The title was borrowed from the Muppets.) Since then she’s had a baby, and even without a new record until earlier this year, she consistently sold out venues. Raised between Washington, D.C. and her grandmother’s farm in Augusta, Georgia, Smith has crafted a unique vocal styling that cannot be easily categorized, and that’s a great thing, because she doesn’t sacrifice who she as an artist. Crafting her own stories and blending vivid elements from many musical appetites – Rock, R&B, soul, blues, jazz, pop, and alternative – Alice Smith has created a seductive marriage of bluesy, soulful vocals balanced by mid-tempo grooves.
It might have been the day after Thanksgiving, but to experience the gift of Alice Smith vocal presence, I am indeed blessed and extremely thankful. The ‘experience’ is the only way to properly describe a concert by the indomitable Alice Smith, because it is indeed more than a concert. It is an organic, intensely emotional, blow you out of your seat, amazing experience. Hurricane, Typhoon, Cyclone, are all aptly named and recognized for their powerful, cataclysmic Natural force. Add Alice Smith to the list.
As I said before, she is a force of nature, and this natural, volcanic voice from God (no worry of Auto-Tune here) is one you can’t help but to enjoy. To say she has talent is an understatement.
When Alice Smith sings, you know it’s for real.
Although the sold-out concert was scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. Friday night and didn’t begin until 8:20pm, the audience was patient, and once Alice Smith stepped on the stage and struck her first note any anxious thoughts were dashed and quickly forgotten. Opening with a three-member band consisting of an electric guitar, drums, and a bass player, Smith fashioned in a black sleeveless top and a white lace, flattering skirt with black leggings, grabbed the mic. stand and lunged into the daring, rock-inspired “Gary’s Song.” Immediately, I am awed by the personalized intimacy she creates with a moment, and the sheer strength and smoldering, richness of her deep tone as her voice crescendos.
Alice Smith’s voice compels you to listen to every word. Her mesmerizing four-octave vocal range and soulful sound are so addictive that as soon as she finished a song (every song), I wanted to hit the repeat button, so that her invigorating, stirred energy of that moment could continue to resonate. I suggest that she shoot a concert film, and make it available on DVD, so fans can relive every note of the performance experience again, and again, and again.
It was fascinating to observe her creative transformation process as she transitions from one song into the next. One can comprehend the conscious effort to connect the internal emotional drive with the outward, on stage performance. Nothing is fabricated, and her movements are minimal for the most part. But, it is all authentic, getting into the moment, dramatic theatre at its best.
She has a surreal, visceral relationship with the lyrics. I call it performance art.
With Cabaret, Smith’s multi-hued harmonies take the audience to church. Not because the song has a gospel rhythm – it doesn’t. It’s because of the way she sings. There is an ease with the song, but she’s preaching the truth about your life’s direction, and asking what chances are you willing to take? Life is a cabaret.
‘That real, that deep, That burning, /that amazing unconditional love’ are the rapturous beginning lyrics of “Fool for You,” that perfectly describe the chanteuse who unpredictably executed her show stopping Cee-Lo remix with The Howard Theatre audience. The stylized effort brought loud cheers, and raised the roaring audience to their feet. “Fool for You” is also the song that Smith performed earlier this month on BET for the televised Black Girls Rock. That dramatic performance has revitalized the adoration of Alice Smith fans, and has garnered her legions of new devotees.
This was Alice Smith’s finest concert moment.
There are no vocal gymnastics or overly produced musical accompaniments. This is simply the wicked, stripped down, make you believe every word that she’s singing, passion of Alice Smith.
It’s the raw emotion, the attitude of her body language, and the defiant confidence that she radiates. She’s on fire and her spirit is a glow. Her spine-tingling version of this powerful tune takes the song to entire another level, and I couldn’t help smile at the iconic Mick Jagger moves, posing gestures, and hair shakes that naturally evolved throughout the fervent interpretation. I can’t get the song – or her performance – out of my head.
“Dream” was another huge crowd pleasing, audience-lip-synching highlight of the evening, showcasing the dynamics of Smith’s vocal landscape. This is the single that was nominated for a 2008 Grammy Award in the Best Urban/Alternative category. Bathed in flashing, roving spotlights, she sung this favorite with attitude and a Janis Joplin grit that was palatable.
In an eighty minute performance, Smith performed a thirteen-song set and a three-song encore that included “Love Endeavor” from her first album, For Lover’s, Dreamers and Me, a Jeff Buckley cover of “You Should Have Come Over,” and concluded with her personal anthem – “She.” The concert experience and her new She collection of songs, which she completely wrote, project a musically inspired woman who is powerful, joyful, and confident.
This was my first visit to the opulent 650 seat (1100 standing) The Howard Theatre, and you can be certain that I will be returning to the venue again soon. It’s my new favorite place. The Howard Theatre has over a century of history in DC, and was recently restored and reopened in April 2012. I haven’t encountered a better stage view or place for top of the line production facilities, (The crisp sound is incredible) and, the professionalism of the responsive staff is greatly appreciated.
Singer/Songwriter/Producer Alice Smith at The Howard Theatre was an unforgettable experience, and I look forward to seeing her again on tour, back in DC, (or even as an opening act) as soon as possible! I recommend that you do, too. She is an artist that puts all of herself – body, heart, and soul – into a performance and makes the audience feel the intensity and meaning behind the words of her songs.
Memories are the journey of our lives. This is one performance that has forever left an indelible mark.
Alice Smith 11-29-13 The Howard Theatre Playlist
1. Gary’s Song
5. The One
6. Fool For You
7. Be Easy
9. Another Love
10. Moving Lights
12. Far Away
13. Desert Song
14. Love Endeavor
15. Lover, You Should Have Come Over (Jeff Buckley cover)
Running Time: 80 minutes, including one encore.
Alice Smith’s website.