Sy Smith – Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete (Advance Review)
Sy Smith – Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete
Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete is Sy Smith’s fifth full-length studio album, and her first since 2012’s Fast and Curious. While it appears that an artist considered to be one of the leading figures in the indie soul world has slowed her pace, Smith has hardly been idle.
Since dropping Fast and Curious, Smith has teased fans with tributes to the music of Janet Jackson and Teena Marie by making downloadable versions of “When I Think of You” and “Lovergirl” (the latter single was also on Fast and Curious). She allowed fans to download her first two albums and she caused a buzz by using the app that allows singers to show video of them singing four and five-part harmony. She used the app to perform “Loving You” by Minnie Riperton and the theme song from the TV show Soul Food.
Smith spent most of the last six years as the lead vocalist for jazz trumpeter Chris Botti’s globe-trotting band in what pretty much amounted to a never-ending tour. In a way, Smith spent the last six years learning and much of what she learned from activities such as the a cappella app to touring with Botti can be heard in Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete, an album that was fully written and produced by Smith.
The knowledge that Smith gained from her time with Botti’s band can be heard most clearly on
“Now & Later (Pocketful of Joy),” the lead single from Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete and the best cut on a project filled with good tunes. On it, Smith shows the breadth of her skills. First of all, the cut showcases Smith’s skill as a musical storyteller. Musically, it is even more impressive. Smith arranged the horns on this track, and the way the brass punctuates the track’s mid-tempo swing shows that the singer was doing more than focusing on her vocals during her time with Botti.
The precision that singing jazz added to Smith’s vocal is present throughout Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete. She endows the tracks with a jazz singer’s phrasing and tight pronunciation. The record also showcases the kind of air-tight harmonies that Smith hinted at with those a cappella videos. The harmonies on those backing vocals range can be swelling and choral on the title track, which deploys sparse instrumentation as a way to highlight Smith’s range as a soloist, and then angelic and church-inspired in the call and response to Smith on the funky number “We Were Never Free.”
Smith’s albums always sported strong lyrical content, and her wit, insight and humor are on display throughout Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete. The title track finds Smith using various examples to show how things a people respond to crisis in unexpected and often affirming ways.
Sometimes a Rose Will Grow in Concrete is perhaps Smith’s most personal album. Fans get a chance to meet her father, himself a singer, who gives his daughter a short interview about his days as an a cappella singer on the streets in New York. She also recruits a top-flight band filled with instrumentalists with whom she has worked, including legendary percussionist and singer Sheila E., drummer and Lee Pearson, who played with Botti and Spyro Gyra. These players elevate the record by illustrating what is gained when talented artists have an opportunity to interact and bounce ideas off each other. Highly Recommended.
By Howard Dukes