Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Shawn Smith review on Dryvetyme Onlyne

Shawn Smith
The Diamond Hand
Gator/Sound Vs Silence; 2009

read whole thing here

The musical term “blue-eyed soul” is one rife with conflict, as it typically is employed to refer to white folks with passionate vocals reminiscent of black singers belting out old-school R&B. On a good day, the expression can be used with affection to denote those white singers who manage to call upon traditionally black vocal forms artfully and reverentially. In other instances, for a critic to describe someone’s songs as “blue-eyed soul,” this is a death knell signaling the arrival of cheap, copycat music from someone whose voice and style is more than sub-par. Do we need to replace this often-misused idiom with something more generic, something that’s less racially divisive or should singers (and their record labels and PR people) simply embrace the term and belt their tunes out even more heartily?

If the music and voice of Shawn Smith are any indication, the answer might just be the latter option: forget the critics and focus on the music. The Diamond Hand, Smith’s new record, should serve as a master class for all of the David Archuleta/Clay Aiken types who want to take their passable voices and attempt to sing simpering ballads to fawning television screens nationwide. To make this style of music work, it helps to have a personal stake in what you’re singing and it’s the fact that he is the primary composer of every track on the album gives even more credence to the power and verve in Smith’s voice.

This album is replete with the kind of rootsy, gospel-infused, rock-flavored soul that would please the fans of both Ben Harper and John Legend, especially when you factor in the heavy amounts of piano and horns that lift up Smith’s Cee-Lo-sings-country vocals to fresh heights. In one sense, there is a familiar formula driving The Diamond Hand: great voice, inspirational lyrics, upbeat pacing, and poppy R&B arrangements all work together to create an enjoyable listening experience. The difference is that, instead of some American Idol karaoke schlock, Shawn Smith and his big heart own these songs – he is no style-stealer.

My primary quibble here is that the slower selections were all lumped together on the last third of the record. “Original Hymn,” “Back Into Me,” and “The White Queen” are alright songs on their own, but they would have been better served as change-of-pace tracks, slight slowdowns before the music took another huge upswing in tempo and volume.

Despite my reservations with track placement, The Diamond Hand succeeds by allowing songs like “At War,” “The Congregation,” and “Breathe In” to fly freely about the room, using Smith’s compelling pipes to give voice to his engaging, post-evangelical meditations on faith, hope, and love. If there should ever be a poster-boy for quality blue-eyed soul, it should most assuredly be Shawn Smith.

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