New Orleans vocalist Leslie Blackshear Smith was born and raised on the diverse music and culture of her hometown. Steeped in the jazz, blues and gospel traditions that permeate the Crescent City, she developed her signature style of performance, composition and expression.
On stage, Leslie reflects the open, welcoming attitude
that is part of the local culture of New Orleans.
Leslie Blackshear Smith
STAGE PLOTS & RIDERS
Leslie Blackshear Smith, How Love Works Part: 1 (636 Music)
AUGUST 26, 2015 by: JOHN SWENSON
Leslie Blackshear Smith is one of the most talented woman vocalists in a city full of them. You only have to look at the sideperson and production credits on this album to understand the esteem New Orleans musicians hold her in.
Smith’s career has been a hopscotch of musical personae in which she’s played the role of the demure singer/songwriter at her piano, the American songbook jazz vocalist and the funkified diva with equal aplomb. This time around it feels like we’re getting to hear the real Leslie.
This can be a formidable task, because she’s not going to let us off easy. This is not a record of half measures, nor is it for the faint of heart. Smith rears back on the title track, ably supported by another magnificent vocalist, Erica Falls, who Smith encourages to engage in more than just harmony but vocal dialogue (elsewhere, Anjelika Joseph and Joylinda ‘Kiki” Phillips also provide vocal assists).
Producer Bobby Economou places Smith in a fantastic bed of beats in which syncopated synth banjo and percussion program augment the swinging groove set down by Alvin Ford, Jr. on drums, Donald Ramsey on bass and June Yamagishi on guitar.
David Torkanowsky sits in on piano for the tortured emotion of “Quit You,” in which Smith catalogs her reasons for dumping an ex. Doug Belote comes in on drums for the rest of the album. On the slow ballad “Everybody Stumbles,” Smith looks back on her relationship decisions, good and bad. Tork returns on B3 for the riff-driven “Redemption,” a story about a man saved by his lover’s spell in the depths of the bayou.
The promise of an emotional breather with the ballad “What Kind of World Are We Making?” is washed away with the sheer dramatic power of Smith’s voice. When Smith sings the line “Stick the knife in my heart,” you want to reach out and grab it away from her. Nicholas Payton challenges her with one of the more astounding trumpet solos of his career, matching her emotional brinksmanship, extremity by extremity.
Bassist George Porter, Jr., who plays on the track, suggested that Smith cut the song in 6/8 time, an excellent suggestion. Porter has played with Smith numerous times, and returns here on three other songs—“Love Walks With Me,” “Don’t Talk To Me” and “I Got You Baby,” adding the subtle music depth he brings to every situation.
On “Don’t Talk To Me” we hear another moving performance from the late saxophonist Tim Green, whose final statements have been trickling out in various recent recordings. Smith dedicates the record to Green, whose influence on New Orleans music went very deep but is hard to catalog due to the dearth of recorded material. Green’s presence adds a grace note to Smith’s spectacular account of the affairs of the heart. All I can say is if this is just Part: 1–what does she have in store for us next?