Do I like Jessie Smith? Oh, yes, I do and I will tell you why. She's got the music in her. Deep. Embedded. She sings like she has demons but not about demons. The last person I heard squeeze the music out the way she does is Cydney Robinson who had music coming out of her pores. On certain songs her whole body tensed up while her stomps accented the notes. Phrasing? I have never heard anything quite like it. Until I heard Jessie Smith. There must be something deep within busting to get out because I can feel it in both of them.
Robinson released an album titled Spokesman For the Shoeless which even today leaves me breathless in places. Two songs, “Georgia” and “Butterflies & Diamonds,” stand as a testament to the power of her voice. I do not pull out her album to listen to just those songs, though. I listen all the way through because the songs warrant it. Good, good stuff.
I hear a lot of Robinson in Smith--- the power, the phrasing, the emotion. Robinson could well have recorded Like the Sun, but she didn't. Jessie Smith did. Jessie Smith. A voice I had never heard before but one I am glad I finally did.
Smith is roots deep and shows it at every turn. There are hooks and grooves all over the album, most pointing to the past but not tied to it. I hear blues and gospel and a little modern country, which means it isn't country at all but a bastardized version of rock. I hear love and venom and joy in the mere performance of the music. Like she could not imagine a world without music. Like if it did not exist life would not be life. At times, I swear I can hear the hurt because when emotions and music hit just the right notes, it does hurt.
Even the package says something about Jessie Smith, musician. On a plain brown CD jacket is silk-screened the album title, Like the Sun, barely readable because the colors came out with almost psychedelic intensity. It reminds me of the old Old Californio jackets except they printed in black. Included is a lyric sheet, thank the gods, a necessity for me when the songs are this good.
Favorites are “Trouble” and “Been In the Storm,” but others are beginning to crack the mental charts. “Take a Chance” because of the mere hint of what Elvis might have done had he been female, “”Secrets In the Hollow” because of its groove reminiscent of the rock side of “O Brother Where Art Thou,” “In the Morning” because of the dirge-like blues groove. I am sure they will each take top spot over time. There is a lot to love here.
Credit must also be handed to Neil Hubbard, the producer. He not only helped write a couple of the songs, he most likely played on most of the album. I have been following him for some time now and, truth be told, cannot point to one of his projects being less than impressive.