Four years after releasing her debut album, 2006's "Loveletterbombs," Toms River-raised and Brooklyn-based songstress April Smith returns on Tuesday (Feb. 23) with the release of her latest LP with her band the Great Picture Show, "Songs for a Sinking Ship."
The phrase "giving the people what they want" seems tailor-made for "Sinking Ship": last summer, Smith set out to raise $10,000 through Kickstarter to record and release the album, by the time the two-month campaign was over the singer had earned more than $13,000 in pledges.
Now that Smith's latest album is complete, it's time for some of the staff of Metromix Jersey Shore to weigh in on the results. What did we think? Read on to find out.
Alex Biese: As acts such as Randy Newman, Elvis Costello and Squeeze have taught us over the years, pop music is at its best when it comes with a bite. Fortunately, the new record by April Smith and the Great Picture Show has catchy hooks and stinging attitude aplenty.
For a perfect example, check out "Dixie Boy," where Smith comes across like the Shore-bred progeny of Roy Orbison and Loretta Lynn as she deploys both sweeping retro grandeur and earthy grit in defense of her man.
If you're looking for other choice cuts, check out "Colors." The song earned Smith an Independent Music Award for best pop/rock song in 2009, and it's easy to see why: the track is an infectious slice of pure romantic pop, the kind of jaunty, under-three-minutes number where an apparent kazoo solo feels like the exact right choice.
Due credit must be given to producer/engineer/mixer Dan Romer; if the Andrews Sisters were just getting their start today, he'd be the perfect person to craft them a hit. Much like his work behind the boards on fellow Jersey girl Jenny Owen Youngs' 2009 album "Transmitter Failure," Romer's crisp and clear production always places the needs of the song first: the ballads are lush, the rockers are bouncy and everything is to-the-point.
Clocking in at just over half an hour long, this is a record that had me clicking the repeat button time and again, and it should have you doing the same. In short, "Sinking Ship" is a big victory for April Smith.
Jennifer Bradshaw: The sound of April Smith and the Great Picture show is refreshing. It's old-timey, and upbeat and cuts through a drab day in the office like a knife.
Her bio says she's a fan of Tom Waits (but really, who isn't?), and I can hear it, particularly in songs like "Terrible Things" and "The One That Got Away." Several songs also brought to mind the styles of Kate Nash and Nicole Atkins and the Sea.
"Drop Dead Gorgeous" and "Dixie Boy" both sway and swagger with a lot of attitude, vocalized by Smith's voice which both belts and flirtatiously flutters. As for the music, I love bands that do more than play second fiddle to vocals, and the Great Picture Show does that and then some, matching Smith's vocal presence with their own, booming sound.
I also love sweetly sung but mildly threatening lyrics like "I know the ways that you girls operate, so keep your hands to yourself and your eyes on your own plate. It's not nice to stare-don't make me come over there,'' showing that Smith is a fantastic, no-nonsense woman who isn't going to spend three and a half minutes over a ballad whining about being in love. How awesome.
I plan on recommending this album to others who can handle spirited, good natured and respectable indie rock. And I recommend it to you, too. Trust me -- it is worth the listen.
Steve Bove: Smith's crushed-velvet croon is in pristine form on her latest release, a smoldering blend of midway jazz, razor-toothed bebop and rockabilly noir that curls and crackles with a menacing swagger.
Wheras many of her Brooklyn-bred brethren seem content scratching and clawing for one of the few seats left at what's looking to be yet another return of the cool, salvaging coy in the post information age (if that's even possible), Smith wields a brazen, juke-joint aesthetic (imagine Bessie Smith … with a hatchet) that somehow manages to both break new ground and remain mindful that her feet are firmly planted in the bedrock of music history.
April Smith and the Great Picture Show will be headlining the Mercury Lounge in New York City on March 10.