Erica Smith, |
(Listen Here!, 2001)
Erica Smith has a pure and lovely voice that is showcased beautifully on her self-titled debut CD. A simple, eight-song recording, this album evokes the folk albums of the '60s, but the "retro" quality does not seem forced or sentimental.
I listened to the album on a cold November afternoon when I was making pumpkin spice muffins. This record was the perfect accompaniment. The intimacy of the recording makes you feel as if you're with Erica in a church basement or living room. The purity of the expression helps you reconnect with the simple pleasures of life.
She chooses songs carefully and I generally agreed with her selections (although her sweet and tuneful voice would lend itself to a wide range of material). Not primarily a writer herself, she sings songs by Greg Brown ("Driftless"), Lal Waterson ("Fine Horseman"), Rebecca Hall ("Come Around"), Gillian Welch and David Rawlings ("By the Mark") and songs in the public domain ("Now Westlin Winds," "No More, My Lord," "The Snows They Melt the Soonest") as well as one of her own ("Love You All the Way").
The material is consistently strong, but the styles range a bit from the historical/traditional to the neo-folkie, bluegrass and gospel. Personally, I found the more contemporary material the most emotionally true. As pretty as the traditional songs are, it's more interesting in today's context to hear "new" songs sung in an "old" way -- and Erica does that particularly well. The gospel song "No More, My Lord" -- which is something of a departure -- hints at an emerging maturity and power in her delivery, and it will be interesting to see how she works with that as her career develops.
The project was recorded with admirable restraint by Orrin Star, featuring Erica's vocals and effective finger-picking nylon-stringed guitar, well-supported by Ken Adnerson on vocals and vocal arrangements, Rachael Birkin on viola and violin, Rebecca Hall and Alison Kelley on vocals and Orrin Star on additional guitars.
Just enough instrumentation was added to bring the songs to life, yet the project was kept clearly-defined and simple. That approach works very well for Erica Smith and the result is a very satisfying listen.