Press / Music CD Reviews
As the old musicians’ saying goes, she could probably sing the phone book. But her niche is Gospel and by that I mean Deep Black Gospel, not the vanilla pabulum one hears on Sunday morning television. … Ms. Smith plays an instrument, in this case the piano; she plays it very well, bringing to mind at times Aretha or a sanctified Roberta Flack. Just check out the first two cuts on this platter if you need reassurance. Additionally on several titles she has overdubbed her voice like a three piece choir (soprano/alto/tenor), sending chills up one’s spine. Frank Cleveland adds some tasty organ interplay to tracks such as “Something About That Name”, and acoustic Jazz bassist Josef Ben Israel spells electric bassman Eugene Harris on three numbers. If you find yourself feeling a little down, just pop on “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus” or the hand clapping “I Know It Was The Blood.” If they don’t make you feel better you’d best see a doctor.”
In Hymn I Trust, singer-pianist Shirley Smith’s debut recording for The Sirens Records, is a sweet album of sing-along hymns and congregational gospel songs straight from the proverbial little wooden church on the hill.
Raised in Detroit, Smith can play and sing in a variety of shades. For example, she gives “O Magnify the Lord” and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” a smidgen of a jazz lilt while maintaining the simple beauty of the original melodies. Songs such as “Because He Lives” and “Something About that Name” get a more reverent, old-line Protestant church treatment.
Smith also breaks into some up-tempo congregational “handclapping” songs, such as “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus,” on which she harmonizes with herself; and the introductory classic, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” The latter, which is entirely instrumental, sounds like the opening of a prayer service, during which the musicians get happy prematurely and launch into a praise break. “He’s Sweet I Know” finds Smith swinging on the everlasting piano keys. Throughout the project, she is supported amply by a combo of polished musicians, including jazz bassist Yosef Ben Israel.
Those familiar with other projects from Steve Dolins’ The Sirens label (Donald and Geraldine Gay, Rev. Dwayne Mason, e.g.) know that the imprint delivers consistently crystal clear sound, especially when it comes to recording the intricasies of the keyboards. The music has an almost three-dimensional effect, as if the concert or program is happening right in your living room, car, back porch, office, iPod, or wherever you may be listening.
You can find Shirley Smith in Jacksonville, Florida, where she serves as Minister of Music for the Potter’s House Christian Fellowship, pastored by Bishop Vaughn McLaughlin.
Piano, long the principal musical instrument in African American worship, can be heard on countless gospel recordings, though seldom outside its primary role of accompanying vocal performances. The Sirens Records, a Highland Park, Illinois, label devoted to documenting blues, boogie, jazz, and gospel pianists, now showcases the traditional gospel sounds of Shirley Smith, Minister of Music at Potter’s House Christian Fellowship in Jacksonville, Florida.
The set includes six instrumentals. Smith and her rhythm section (organ, bass, drums) begin Leaning On The Everlasting Arms at two-beat swing temp with pronounced backbeat before kicking into a faster, highly spirited shout beat. O Magnify The Lord is treated to a straight-ahead 4/4 swing groove by the supporting players, over which Smith works a bit of jazz harmony into her highly syncopated keyboard attack. The traditional waltz Trust and Obey, an original song titled We Cry Holy, and two contemporary Christian standards by Bill and Gloria Gaither – Something About That Name and Because He Lives – get sweetly reverent readings at slower clips. Smith’s approach to the 88s is simple and solid, with little showing off or straying from the original melodies.
Smith applies her warm alto voice to the remaining five selections, of which the waltz Tis So Sweet is particularly soulful. Her singing, like her piano playing, is largely unadorned, though it comes as a something of welcome change of pace from the pyrotechnical, often over-the-top vocals heard on many current gospel recordings. On some numbers, she overdubs her voice to create the sound of a small choir. And on the two-beat I Know It Was The Blood, she plays no piano at all, singing alone with just the support of bass, bass drum, and syncopated handclaps, hinting at the type of fervor she must stir up when interacting with a church congregation[s]. Too bad there wasn’t one on this rather subdued recording.
Shirley plays piano (Erwin Helfer introduced her to The Sirens) and the first two tracks are instrumental showcases for her considerable talents in this direction. She also sings soprano, tenor and alto, which we can hear in a choir setting on some tracks thanks to the wonders of over-dubbing. She grew up in Detroit and began playing at three years old becoming professional at thirteen, she leads workshops across America on various aspects of gospel music and has given voice lessons at blues festivals.
For this CD – her debut – Shirley is backed by her associate from her church in Jacksonville, Florida, organist Frank Cleveland (who has worked with Al Green), Chicago gospel drummer Dart Gunn, and either jazz bass player Yosef Ben Israel or gospel bassist Eugene “Bud” Harris. The balance of the eleven tracks is from the public domain, though mostly with fresh and original arrangements. However, the instrumental “Something About That Name” is a little to florid for my taste – though, followed as it is by the foot-stomping, hand-clapping “ I Know It Was The Blood”, which is just Shirley and Eugene on a rural sounding item, this is quickly forgiven. “O Magnify The Lord” is pure jazz in execution, and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” could pass as a classic torch song if you don’t listen to the words too closely. Just as the CD seems to be losing direction, Shirley’s co-composition, the instrumental “We Cry Holy”, restores the gospel balance, and the closer maintains this, though something a little more rousing might have made a better ending to the set.
No one else seems to be recording this kind of music – The Sirens has a small but highly interesting catalogue of modern but traditionally rooted gospel music, and this is a worthy addition.
Steven Dolins a choisi de mettre en avant sur son label The Sirens Records , le Gospel, le Blues et le Jazz toujours aussi vivant à Chicago. Petit catalogue certes mais où la qualité règne en maître grâce au flair de renard de Steven. Nouveau compact sacré avec la pianiste et chanteuse Shirley Smith, elle a grandi à Detroit avant de mettre le cap sur Atlanta puis Jacksonville où elle s'occupe de la musique au sein de la Potter's House Christian Of Fellowship . Dotée d'un solide et robuste jeu au piano, difficile ici de ne pas résister à l'appel dominical de l'envoutante Shirley Smith.