Emma Smith - Meshuga Baby
Meshuga Baby’ is the new release from Emma Smith, a vocalist with a voice that brings a fresh, beautiful take on jazz music, though she is not limited to jazz by any means. Emma Smith has a diverse musical background and has performed at London's 02 Arena and leading New York City jazz clubs, collaborating and recording with Michael Buble, Robbie Williams, Georgie Fame, and Seal.
She is one of her generation's most exciting voices, and is increasingly recognised as a brilliant talent. She won the London Music Awards Rising Star in 2015 and the Worshipful Company of Musicians Medal of 2013. Emma is also one-third of the chart-topping vocal harmony group 'The Puppini Sisters.
She has performed globally, hosts a weekly show on BBC Radio 3 and featured in a four-part BBC TV documentary about vocalists hosted by Gregory Porter.
She now has a formidable reputation as a powerful and expressive artist. Her new album, ‘Meshuga Baby’ showcases a body of work that perfectly demonstrates her vocal talents and also allows her expressive personality to shine through. With her on the album are pianist Jamie Safir (Ollie Murs, Will Young, Brand New heavies, Tony Hadley, and more), bassist Conor Chaplin (Dinosaur, Flying Machines, and more), and drummer Luke Tomlinson ( Claire Martin, Paul McCartney, Robbie Williams, Paloma Faith and more) and these musicians add quality and stardust to the album.
Smith has been performing for more than eleven years and almost without us realising it, the UK has produced a sensation who is now getting the recognition her talent deserves.
With a nod to Emma's Jewish heritage, 'Meshuga Baby' is a play on words based on 'Meshuge,' the Yiddish word for 'crazy' - a judgment that Smith describes as "so often passed on brave ambitious women that are not afraid express their opinions and showcase their talent."
The album is a selection of classics interpreted in Emma's unique way, combined with some delightfully quirky originals that showcase Emma's flair for songwriting.
Jean Lennox/Harry O. Sutton’s 'I Don't Care' opens the album, and the track perfectly suits Smith's sensual, slightly breathy take of the number, tinged with a tongue-in-cheek sassiness that marks a confident singer interpreting the song her way. Smith inserts little touches, like an unexpected giggle, a deep dip into chest voice, and sumptuous, floating rises which add colour and individuality to the number. You get the sense that, far from not caring, Smith is deeply in touch with the how the listener is going to be affected by her delivery of this number. It is a well-known number but here given original flavour, and a quirkiness which makes it a delight.
Cy Colman/Dorothy Field's 'Where Am I Going' is sung with questioning, curiosity, answering of her own questions and exasperation at the ins and outs of relationships, the adventures of life, and the
effect on the singer. It is sung with expression and a beautiful contrast of force and gentle wonder. The piano is a shining light on the track too.
Smith/Safir's 'Sit On My Knee And Tell Me That You Love Me' is a great number, with some wonderful counter-rhythms between piano and percussion, over which Smith tells a wonderful tale of relationships and the devious femme fatal who garners affection, while not taking anything seriously. Smith unleashes her scat singing on this number and take heed - it is devastatingly good. What a number! Thus far in to the album, I would add also ‘What a singer!’
Irving Berlin's 'There's No Business Like Show Business' is given the Smith treatment, and the arrangement is superb, the smoochy slowed-down version making the words and the meaning of the song crystal clear. It also reveals Smith's control and depth of her vocal range.
Gus Khan/Walter Donaldson's 'Makin' Whoopee' is beautifully delivered, with Smith again interpreting the number in her own manner. The piano solo is beautiful and delicate, demonstrating Safir's intuitive understanding of the arrangement.
George and Ira Gershwin's 'Think Pink' is glorious. Sassy, classy, and delivered with style, while Smith/Safir's 'My Revelation' is a sumptuous, rich delivery of a tale of love with voice and bass in conversation in sections with the supportive ensemble supplying a firm foundation over which Smith's vocals rise and soar. The bass solo works well, sliding between the vocal and piano lines with aplomb. 'Ballad of A Wayward Woman' is another Smith/Safir number and is a tale of a woman seemingly allowing life to get the better of her, the constant years of slowly sinking. A salutary tale of a life not so well lived. The piano on this track is amazing. It is followed by 'Monogamy Blues,' which begins with a drum roll, piano setting the pace, and the vocals tell of a worldly woman, an unworthy man, and the enticement of new fields in romance. The piano rolls in with its bluesy voice, countering the forthright, open-chested vocals over outstanding bass, which counters the impressive scat with solid belly-deep notes. The final third is glorious as the vocals soar, the accents emphasising the story of the secret life of his lover.
Boy Dylan's 'Hollis Brown' may seem like an unlikely inclusion on what is essentially a jazz album, but when you Smith’s interpretation, it fits perfectly. Sotto voce solo, over gentle, intuitive instrumentation, delivered empathetically by the band members, this is a powerful, moving delivery, and the story unfurls, no holds barred. Absolutely glorious.
Jule Styne/Bob Merrill's 'People' is delivered almost straight, but Smith cannot help but infuse the number with her individual take, the song allowing her to soar and demonstrate yet another side of her talent – the ability to interpret a well-known standard and make it her own.
Willie Dixon's 'Seventh Son' is crazy, dynamic, and fun with a lovely piano and drum interlude, while the final track, George and Ira Gershwin/Chet Baker's 'But Not For Me' is breath-taking in its clarity, respect for the original and inimitable in its interpretation.
Listening to Emma Smith left this reviewer lost for words at times. The quality of her voice is a rarity, and her interpretations of known numbers and the original songs written with Safir are a delight. One gets the sense that Emma Smith would be at home singing any genre, but that jazz suits her voice in such a sublime manner; it is as if she emerges from music created for her.
She delivers a caress, anger, love, and sassiness in equal measure, making this album a beautiful and inspired creation.
Throughout the album is a concept of a female dealing with the trials of life – and combing through in style, her character strengthened, just like the vocals. Emma Smith is young and still evolving and I have a strong sense we shall see and hear a lot more of this supremely talented singer. ‘Meshuga Baby’ is a stand out release and I have the feeling that the Emma Smith star is very much on the rise.