Laura Smith,
It's a Personal Thing
(Cornermuse, 1997)

It is easy to see how Laura Smith's 1997 release It's a Personal Thing helped to increase the artist's popularity in the Canadian folk music genre. Smith's style is very frank and down-to-earth, drawing the listener in for an emotional rollercoaster ride. Her natural, emotive voice is well suited to her music -- folk, sometimes with a twinge of country, or even jazz -- and relays the depth of her lyrics. Fans of folk music will relish this album.

Smith, a native of Ontario, Canada, migrated to the East Coast and now makes her home in Halifax. On this recording, Smith provides vocals and guitars. She is joined by a wealth of other talented musicians, playing guitars, bass, fiddle, cello, piano, Hammond organ, accordion, synthesizers, banjo and clarinet, as well as providing percussion. Since the release of this album, Smith has become an artist in high demand on Canada's folk club and festival circuit, earning both East Coast Music Award and Juno nominations.

She got a late start in the music world, instrumentally -- she began to teach herself piano and guitar at the age of 19 -- but this certainly hasn't hindered her abilities. Smith plays like a woman who has had a guitar in her hands since the day she was born. Her soulful music draws listeners in, soothes them with her expressive voice, and allows them a glimpse of her personal world. Her lyrics are thoughtful and thought-provoking, and feature everyday (and yet, all-important) themes that can be easily identified with.

Now, I really don't like to make comparisons between musicians, because each person is an individual, and styles have so many subtle differences. However, for the purposes of helping people determine whether they might enjoy Smith's album, I will say that in my mind, something in Smith's work reminds me of Anne Murray. Perhaps it is something in her expression ... I don't know, but they both seem to have that searching, emotional feel to their music, and a strong, rich voice.

Smith has a strong talent for expression. She sounds as though she is singing for herself, baring her innermost thoughts and dreams, and the world just happens to be listening in. Listening to her album is much like having a private conversation -- or, well, it would be, if you were to talk back! In "One Suitcase," Smith ponders going out into the world and finding a dream. "I'm a Beauty" explores the idea that true beauty comes from within. "I Didn't Dream" illustrates how life isn't always as we perceive it to be, and "For Better or for Worse" makes a commentary on today's idea of marriage ("for better or for worse or until I change my mind").

Along with Smith's outstanding vocals and skills as a songwriter, this album features some excellent accompaniment. "It's a Personal Thing" has a rather catchy tune to it, as well as great percussion. It is upbeat, although quite gentle, and the instrumentals flow well. The fiddle and accordion are excellent additions to "One Suitcase," and I especially enjoy the percussion and guitar in "I Didn't Dream." Lisa MacDougall provides some wonderful harmonies with Smith in "When I Get My Way" -- an all-round good song. It has one of those memorable tunes that stick in one's head, and I found myself humming it later in the day. "For Better or for Worse" is another song with a great tune, and the guitars and fiddle blended in really well. The gospel-like "Tell the Truth" is one of Smith's more energetic tracks, and the clarinet added to the jazzy tone of "Liquid State."

For the folk music lover, this album is a good purchase. Laura Smith, with her soul-searching lyrics, and talent for both instrumental and vocal arrangements, will encourage listeners to take their shoes off, put on a pot of tea and sit down for a good, old-fashioned heart-to-heart.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]

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