ALL MUSIC GUIDE HERE
Review by Ned Raggett
After announcing it in 2005, it almost seemed like Shawn Smith's The Diamond Hand, originally the name of the collaborative project meant to record the album, would never fully surface. Its 2008 release was worth the wait, though; if Smith's lovely, rich vocals provide no change from before, that's precisely why The Diamond Hand is such a joy. If anything, the key signifier of the album is its dark undertow in many of the arrangements — also not too much of a surprise given Smith's past work in bands and solo, but the contrast between Smith's exultant singing and the moody feedback growls on "Ring That Bell" and the calm drones in the background of "Back into Me" has rarely seemed so strong since his guest work with the Afghan Whigs. Perhaps tellingly, Smith's major partner on the album is Harold Chichester, another Afghan Whigs fellow traveler; Keith Lowe also turns up on a number of songs but ultimately there's no one common thread beyond Smith himself, his warm singing never placing a false step. Whether it's the shuffling beats and piano on "Losing Home" or the stirring surge of "Toss It in the Fire," one of the better anthems for a pantheistic approach out there at present, Smith pretty well nails it song for song. Perhaps one of the sweetest touches occurs on "The Congregation," where two young girls provide the voices of the title, but Smith then tops that later with "Original Hymn," with just his overdubbed vocals, piano, and trumpet on the album's most stunningly beautiful moment, a hushed invocation in a darkened sanctuary.