More please, Alice
Has it been a while since a track came along and set your speakers on fire? Since your eyes bugged out with hair-raising pleasure at some sheer sonic wonderment? Then I’d like to recommend Alice Smith’s cover of “The House of the Rising Sun” (available on most streaming services). As proof of her real-deal-status, you can see the live performance below, which, in my opinion, makes the studio recording seem even more special.
Smith last checked in with the barn-burning, torch-exploding 2013 (egads, has it been that long?) stunner She. Long breaks between full length albums are nothing new for Alice Smith—she made us wait an excruciating seven years between her last two records. And she did bless us with a brilliant version of “I Put a Spell On You” for the 2015 Nina Simone tribute album Nina Revisited. But that recent single just reminded me—and hopefully lots of other people—just what we’ve been missing.
Alice Smith occupies a unique place in pop/soul/R&B. She keeps up with the mainstream conversation (as evidenced by her cover of CeeLo Green’s “Fool For You”) but hews staunchly to her own path. She favors live instrumentation and knows how to put on a great live set, with minimal production. Her performances are reliably solid still low-key adventurous. She traffics in a pleasing mix of near contradictions: earthy yet modern; explosive yet focused; traditional yet inventive. Like Kelly Hogan, she shows up, does her job, and blows the doors off, with very little in the way of narrative consumables. She presents herself in perfect clarity, without any of the expected trappings of media product.
These days, when the message very much is the media, Alice Smith’s strategy offers some much needed quiet. Without the saturating effect of ancillary content we can focus on her music. I’m not enough of a curmudgeon to say that it should always be about the music, man. Lady Gaga and many others have crafted enthralling multi-channel products that feel relevant and exciting. But I never feel the need to curl up with Lady Gaga. Music like that is a complete meal, but it’s not a feast. Alice Smith—even when presented with such a brief glimpse, as on this new track—is a vital reminder of exactly what I need.