I am trying not to tap my foot to the music in the background; so I cross my legs at the ankle. I always sit this way when trying to mask my fervent angst. It has only been months last since I’d seen her; but my heart is racing all the same. My sweaty palms clutch the second round martini in front of me as my eyes adjust to the dimmed lighting. People are filing in now, pairs of two and three, squeezing pass barstools and impatient waiters taking drink orders. Five minutes before curtain, the band slowly slides onto stage, real reserved-like, exchanging winks and playful banter as they set up.
Before I can place the chilled vodka to my lips, she appears. The band starts up right away and I remember now why Rolling Stone called her “intoxicating”. She introduces herself as Alice Smith and tells Philadelphia how happy she is to be back. The, then silent, crowd launches into an uproar and the first guitar strings of her debut single “Dream” ring through the small café. The room quiets down to a gentle hum as Alice pours out her heart.
When I accidentally stumbled upon the Neo-Soul album, For Lovers, Dreamers and Me, Alice’s first, I had no clue I would fall this madly in love with her voice. She sings from her gut, throwing her lyrics to the back of the room and lunging forward as she extends her notes. I don’t sing along with her like everyone else does; I can’t…a voice that bracing needs no followers. I just close my eyes and sway back and forth.
She’s on her third or forth song before I finally open my eyes and take in my surroundings. The Tin Angel is little lounge right off of Market Street down Olde City; it sits above a quaint restaurant that is snuggled between two bars. The interior is synonymous with the lively nightlife of Philadelphia. The walls are painted with abstract objects and fictional characters like the four cats wearing tuxedos and toasting with champagne vessels. The bar sits opposite a makeshift stage where; although ridiculously overpriced, the drinks are to die for. The red fluorescent lights are on a constant low to give into that beatnik poetry atmosphere.
I glance over at my date whose eyes are glued to Alice –whose five six frame is like a giant to me; elevated only a couple feet from the bar floor but illuminated by large lights set above her head. She dons only a pair of skinny jeans and a gray shirt that hangs from her right shoulder. Her hair is recklessly thrown into a ponytail which bounces from side to side as she prances around the small stage. She appears to me as a kid alone in her room dancing to her own voice; her lighthearted demeanor only cajoles the audience to beam even more.
Alice pauses for a brief moment and takes a sip from a water bottle. She peers over her shoulder at her bass guitarist and nods. He plays a screwed rift of the beginning of “Do I”, my favorite song on the album, and possibly, in the world. My drunken buzz heightens and before I can even attempt to help it, my mouth moves with hers and I am singing.
Artists like Me’Shell Ndegeocello, Les Nubians and Sadé broke ground in the R&B genre and formulated a widely anticipated new sound; but it has been years since Neo-Soul has had any novelty. There was a time where Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo and Erykah Badu dominated but since their falling out there has been plenty of room for a different climate. In recent years artists like Floetry, Musiq Soulchild and Raphael Saadiq have mixed the two sounds together to reach a broader audience; but if you are a fan of Neo-Soul, much like I am, you’d know that there was talk of this genre dying. It is people like Goapele, Estelle, Chrisette Michelle and Alice Smith who are breathing life back into this underground music scene and giving it a unique spin.
Alice Smith’s lyrics are as emotive as Billie Holiday’s and her voice is as passionate as Chaka Kahn’s. She exudes a type of bubbly style that makes her live performances more of pleasure than overwhelming. She doesn’t need theatrics or an opening act to compel her listeners to belt out “encore” at the end. We can only hope she doesn’t disappear after an LP like her counterparts, Remy Shand and Christion did. It would be much more than a shame if she did, because she is simply the purity of Neo-Soul and I look forward to hearing more of it.
Do I by Alice Smith
Album: For Lovers, Dreamers, & Me