5 // Black Future Month // Alice Smith, Vocalist

Posted on February 5, 2012

This is not a comparison post. I’m wary of that.

I saw Alice Smith perform last night at Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles. The lady is a stunner. She’s poised, graceful, down home, a little bit silly: a phenomenal voice at the onset of a tremendous career. Georgia raised, Brooklyn inhabitant, Alice Smith is the real deal. She’s one album in, another’s on the way. Her first opus “For Lovers, Dreamers and Me”, stayed in heavy Nak rotation for most of 2008 and the better part of 2009. I’ve been waiting, a bit impatiently, to see what her sophomore effort would yield. I went, with a good friend, to check out her show. Hotel Cafe is an intimate venue, ’bout the size of Sutra (for the New York readership) and, hmmm, maybe the size of Vitus (for the Oakland fam). Under dim light, with spare accompaniment, the sorceress took the stage. She’s unassuming, but her voice is epic. A little sad. Fine, a lot sad. In performance, there are few who share her timbre, range, lyricism and ability to emote. But the hyper-empaths in the audience felt her for sure: tears, shouts of joy, deep sighs of release after nearly every tune. This one got me:

This one got the woman standing next to me, and her partner:

I’ve felt that same reaction to expressivity only once before, as a child, the first time I heard Phyllis Hyman. And that’s why this is not a comparison post. I’m hesitant to draw parallels to the tragedy at the end of Hyman’s life. Plus Phyllis Hyman’s impact is almost too large to speak, and Alice Smith has yet to reach such acclaim. There’s time yet.

I watched this interview of Ms. Smith with ReelBlack (after one of her shows in Philly) and then saw a much earlier interview with Ms. Hyman and Ms. Susan Taylor for Essence. I was astounded by the parity, particularly the thoughts both performers have on the music industry — I hear the vocalists, though split by 30 years or so, in conversation. Trading.

For good measure, and so you can see Phyllis as I feel her, Phyllis Hyman Live in Tokyo:

Black Future Month salutes the genius of Phyllis Hyman, and acknowledges Alice Smith, a sorceress brimming with decades of potential. Can’t wait to see her sing blues in the future. Her next effort, “The Last After” is out soon. But never soon enough.

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