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Erica Smith | Friend or Foe (Listen Here!)
Well this is refreshing â?? an artist whose sleeve photos feature her looking all unmade-up and with natural-looking hair. In a world where most new female singer-songwriters seem to be pretty relentlessly groomed and image-targeted and bleached it's good to see her blurry in her bathroom in crumpled undies. When I say "it's good", I don't mean... but I'm waffling. Like the majority of women with acoustic guitars to strum and songs to sing Ms Smith hails from Canada, and the Joni comparisons have already been made. I'm not sure why, because her voice is pure and sweet and has none of the early-Joni wail or the later-Joni smoked huskiness. Her own fine songs ease us in, and then there are a few traditional songs arranged by Smith. With everyone and their alt.country hamster doing either Wayfaring Stranger or Oh Death, her decision to do both is surely courting ridicule, but she pulls it off twice. The first she does with tabla, guitar and cello, and an electric bass solo; the latter with loping tabla, banjo and Hammond organ. In between is Love You All The Way, a lusher and jazzier number than those around it. Instrumentation is interesting and imaginative without being odd for its own sake. The penultimate track, Rose in Winter, demonstrates this by emulating The Band in its chugging and swinging sort of country. And then it's another traditional tune in the form of the sweet Pretty Saro with its low rippling banjo and touches of dulcimer. And then this quietly fine disc is over.
CWAS #12 - Summer 2003