Vocalist Emma Smith releases Meshuga Baby, her first solo album in ten years – her debut album being the critically acclaimed The Huntress on the Frantic Jazz label in 2012. Emma is also one third of the very successful vocal harmony group The Puppini Sisters, which is where I first came to hear her name.
In a nod to her proud Jewish heritage Meshuga Baby is a play on words based on ‘Meshuge’, the Yiddish word for ‘crazy’ – a judgement that Emma describes as being “so often passed on brave ambitious women who are not afraid to express their opinions and showcase their talent.” The album is compilation of much-loved classic tunes and co-written originals delivered in a style that very much belongs to Emma.
Let’s start by looking at the original compositions, the first of which is ‘Sit On My Knee And Tell Me That You Love Me’. The vocals are set over a relatively simple refrain played by pianist Jamie Safir, Emma’s delivery is strong, punchy, and well phrased all of which reflects the independent strength of character of the woman portrayed in the lyrics. Emma also shows of her scat credentials over Luke Tomlinson’s rippling drum patterns.
The breathy styling on ‘My Revelation’ gives the tune a classic jazz feel, reminiscent of the female big band vocalists of the 1940s. Conor Chaplin plays some very nice bass lines on this number over which Emma makes good use of variations in tone, and volume in this mid-tempo lightly swinging number. ‘Monogamy Blues’ introduces another stylistic change in delivery. The scatting is there but has a greater energy and purpose than before, the vocals have a harsher edge to them that befits the lyrics. The piano is more strident and backed by punchy bass and drums. This number has a vibrancy about it that makes it stand out and almost demand attention.
The rest of the album is made up of some well-known tunes but delivered in less familiar style. The standout track in this respect is, for me, Irving Berlin’s ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business.’ The number has been slowed down and pared back to a minimum, this throws all the emphasis onto the lyrics and highlights the precariousness and challenges of existing in the field of entertainment. This is followed with ‘Makin’ Whoopee’, a very familiar tune that Emma makes her own by shining the spotlight on the humour in the lyrics over well-played accompaniment from the trio behind her. Later in the album the band take on the rhythm and blues of ‘Seventh Son’ and deliver with some style, a word that applies across the thirteen tracks that make up Meshuga Baby.
Some albums grab your attention from the first listen, others need to be heard more than once to appreciate the writing: this album is of the former. Please do not take that as an indication that I consider this album is an easy listen, there is plenty here that is emotive and thought provoking but there is also great humour here too. Meshuga Baby has been put together with great care; it is well balanced and very well produced. The musicianship works very well with Emma’s vocals, which are beautifully layered, clear, and wonderfully pitched in terms of emotional coherence to the lyrical content. Ten years between albums is a long time, too long! Emma Smith is a vocalist we should all be more aware of, a vocalist who, along with her band, makes a great sound that can be recognized and appreciated by anyone who enjoys good lyrics delivered with style, passion and a genuine feel for the material.
Musicians: Emma Smith – vocals; Jamie Safir – piano; Conor Chaplin – bass; Luke Tomlinson – Drums.
Tracklist: 1. I Don’t Care. 2. Where Am I Going. 3. Sit On My Knee And Tell Me That You Love Me. 4. There’s No Business Like Show Business. 5. Makin’ Whoopee. 6. Think Pink. 7 My Revelation. 8. Ballad of a Wayward Woman. 9. Monogamy Blues. 10. Hollis Brown. 11. People. 12. Seventh Son. 13. But Not For Me. Tracks 3,7,8, & 9 are written by Emma Smith and Jamie Safir.