Alice Smith, such a common name for an uncommon talent. Rather than sing safely, sing popular, sing pretty songs with an ingenue’s innocence, Ms. Smith often grittily tackles grown-ass-adult, conflicting emotions. She may start out on a song’s seismometer moaning at six, seven, or eight, but before long she is screaming at ten and then, with a healthy holler, takes if all the way out from there.
Her distinctive voice is emotionally naked. And emphatic. No whispering secrets. She is a shout out loud, tell-all. Don’t care who is listening. You never have to guess how she feels or what she means. When decorum would dictate silent appreciation, Alice makes you want to join her in hollering at whatever idiosyncratic moon may be shinning in your particular piece of the sky.
She does contemporary music, but one of Smith’s especial strengths is how she interprets old songs, and how she imbues a cover of somebody else’s composition with a new, and generally deeper, meaning and feeling. Ms. Smith is a song shaman. A raw truth teller. You wanna go there, well, let’s go.
Be forewarned, this ain’t no easy row to hoe. Alice knows. There is a hurt in the center of Alice. Trauma. Not no make believe. Not just losing a dollar or two. Naw, this the real deal. The rent due. The car broke. The refrigerator empty. And the baby crying. What you gonna do kind of singing.
Look at her.
She is not afraid. Not afraid to see herself, her condition. Her past and her future. And will rear back and let it rip. Fuck it. This is Alice Smith music. This is a lady who take an old song like “House Of The Rising Sun” and not only makes you believe. Makes you feel it. The horror of it.
That’s the back story. The how come it is what it is. Why she be in the shape she is in. And, remember, while this may be a performance, in every tale somebody say, there is an element of truth.
You don’t get to really sing about pain if you ain’t never before been cut to the quick. Stabbed in the back by some somebody that you trusted. But like the old folks always would ‘fess up: ain’t nobody’s fault but yourn if you loved who you love and they just throwed your love away. Or worse yet, if your partner or fellow traveler turned your sincerest beliefs, concerns, concessions and daily doings right back on you. Hurted you bad. Callously cut up your trusting heart into little pieces and fed it to the lions in the zoo, who-so-ever them lions might have been and whatever particular jurisdiction wherein the zoo resides. They might a been the cruel butcher while you were the lamb-like victim. The self confessed fool who quietly lay down beneath the blade. You was both the Judas goat and the lamb. When it comes to loving somebody, you led yourself to the slaughter.
Of course, most of us been a fool a time or two. That’s just the way of the world. The major difference is that Alice can sing about it at a level that makes you scream.
Like you can’t really be captivated by a picture seen from a distance, we really need to go ahead and get up close with it. Go where the fire be burning bright. Be the burnt child with a story of our own about how come it be taking so long for our scars to heal.
Being intimate is what pushes us all the way to the edge of the ledge. Ain’t nothing but sky above. Water below. And a long, long ways down to the bottom.
And then we are dropped, deposited at the feet of Screaming Jay Hawkins, the conjure man who wrote about spells; he who laughs and let’s you know that whom-so-ever your lover was, well, they was the one who put a spell on you. Some crazy shit from which you may never recover.
And then Kahlil Joseph and them go and make a video out it. Called it Black Mary. It’s not no ordinary video. Befitting this song, this is some strange, eerie, other kind of familiar.
The truth is most everybody wants somebody.
Whether or not we get what or who we want, we all never-the-less still have both a desire and a choice bumping up against the moment when we have to make a real either/or decision. Do we passively accept the vagaries of chance and just leave it be. Or, in the immortal words of James Brown, do we actively get up and get involved. With our bad selves.
Yes, we know, sooner or later, into each life some rain must fall. The only question is: what are we going to do about getting wet?
Sit and cry. Or get up and move on?
Each of us has to answer the eternal question. Given whatever we have to deal with: what are we going to do about our circumstances? Indeed, what can we do? Moreover, what can only each of us do about our conditions. Whether personal: something we brung on ourself, or social: that which was dumped on us by the situation we were born(e) into, ultimately, what we do is up to each of us.
What we sing is our choice. Let Alice Smith be our example. It’s not the song itself but how it is sung that inspires, that makes us sit up and take notice. The folk wisdom is well founded: it ain’t what you do but the way that you do it. Alice Smith affirms the power of a song well sung.