Antonique Smith - Love Is Everything (2015)

Antonique Smith
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Power. The first thing one notices about Antonique Smith’s instrument on her debut EP, Love Is Everything, is its power. From-the-gut belting to the back of the house and the top of the rafters in ways less and less heard in popular urban music. She joins the ranks of such singers as Ledisi, Angie Fisher, Jill Scott, Sharon Jones, Jennifer Hudson, and the like in her ability to project in tune and with enough emotion to wring out of a rag and fill a punch bowl with tears. The retro soul material is both current and old simultaneously, since the chords and instrumentation are of bygone eras, but the melisma heavy vocal approach is straight out of the contemporary church. Unlike so many flat-footed, field-holler singers before her, Smith’s songs fit her instrument and don’t seem too small or thin to sustain the weight of her voice. In six songs, she largely introduces herself with a mighty roar, and we’re in awe. 

Power. The first thing one notices about Antonique Smith’s instrument on her debut EP, Love Is Everything, is its power. From-the-gut belting to the back of the house and the top of the rafters in ways less and less heard in popular urban music. She joins the ranks of such singers as Ledisi, Angie Fisher, Jill Scott, Sharon Jones, Jennifer Hudson, and the like in her ability to project in tune and with enough emotion to wring out of a rag and fill a punch bowl with tears. The retro soul material is both current and old simultaneously, since the chords and instrumentation are of bygone eras, but the melisma heavy vocal approach is straight out of the contemporary church. Unlike so many flat-footed, field-holler singers before her, Smith’s songs fit her instrument and don’t seem too small or thin to sustain the weight of her voice. In six songs, she largely introduces herself with a mighty roar, and we’re in awe. 

Similar to Angie Fisher’s “I.R.S.,” the Grammy-nominated “Hold Up Wait A Minute (Woo Woo)” was the kind of infectious, throw a shoe at your radio in excitement single that once made an R&B career overnight, but the debut only placed Smith on the tongue of music aficionados and industry insiders who were paying attention. Some of that can be blamed on limited urban radio play that seems to prefer breathy sopranos who appear to be there as accessories to whatever in-demand rapper radio is more eager to advance. With its strong percussion, no nonsense sass, doo-wop harmonies, and pure soul vocal, this song was unabashedly playing in classic soul funk waters without apology—which is tragically out of step with the weak soul pop radio now supports.

Not that Smith is letting the lack of more mainstream media exposure slow her roll. With both film (“Notorious”) and Broadway credits (“Rent”) to her name, music is just one leg of a three-legged stool heavy with talent. Still, someone with Smith’s chops, photogenic appeal, and demonstrated record of activity for timely social justice causes like climate change and human rights would usually be making bigger waves given the gap left by such powerhouse R&B singers as Whitney Houston, Broadway staple Deborah Cox, and an ever diminishing Mariah Carey.

If the comparisons to Carey, Cox, or Houston feel premature, after checking out “Hold Up Wait a Minute,” take a visit by its companions on the Love Is Everything EP. The robust “Got What I Need,” a voluminous song of edge-of-your seat vocals, organ arpeggios, and a similarly driving Motown foot stomp percussion, joins “Hold Up Wait A Minute” as a car on the retro soul funk train. The song continues to build with Smith singing in three parts with herself in a no-holds barred fashion. Less bombastic, but no less effective are the highly melodic mid-tempo old school ballad “Take A Chance” and the accapella cover of The Beatles “Here Comes The Sun,” a performance that is only missing a choir robe and a stained glass backdrop. All the above-mentioned are works of beauty.

Less interesting, but probably more catering to what radio demands these days is Smith’s second single from this project, the ho-hum “Higher (Let Your Guard Down),” on which overproduced slickness and effect coated vocals more or less sound like everything else on urban pop radio these days. Watch it be the hit. Sigh.

A tune that does a better job of working the middle between the fullness of Smith’s capabilities and the tired calls for formula material is delivered on the sentimental “All We Really Have Is Now.” It’s the kind of sweet pop ballad that might have appealed to the ears of a crossover tween to young adult audience if Smith wasn’t so obviously a grown woman. Still, the song presents a nice bridge between the best of Smith’s glorious heights and the wearying, earthbound requirements to have any chance at being heard outside of alternative and Internet media outlets. All in all, Smith balances both calls well, like many a would-be soul diva with pop aspirations before her has in a long, esteemed line of greatness. Highly recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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