The title of singer-songwriter Ashleigh Smith’s new single, “I Can’t Help It,” aligns with her identity as an artist. Her recordings are unapologetic and unabashed amalgams of straight-ahead jazz cadences and soulful R&B grooves with sophisticated pop appeal that when knitted together, result in genre-defying tracks best labeled modern vocal jazz. Her newly released TopCat Records single is an act of defiance in itself because there’s no question that it’s a straight-ahead jazz cut yet that radio format doesn’t release singles. That little detail wasn’t going to prevent Smith from issuing her version of the tune penned by Stevie Wonderand Susaye Greene, which she produced and arranged with bassist Nigel Rivers.
Clearly Smith is comfortable in her own skin. She studied classical music on a full scholarship in college, won the 2014 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition, which demonstrates her remarkable skills as a jazz singer, and grew up in a musical household where she fell in love with classic R&B and pop as performed on “real instruments.” Each element adds to the distinctive alchemy that converges organically to form her own unique brand.
While “I Can’t Help It” is a song about romantic love, for Smith, the lyrics serve as affirmations, declarations empowering her individuality. Floating her emotive croon atop the brisk straight-ahead jazz rhythms constructed by Rivers’ elastic basslines and Mauricio Barroso’s staccato percussion beats, Smith’s single is illumined by the astute piano and Rhodes keyboards from Daniel Marandure and Pete Clagett’s probing trumpet. Adding melodic touches to the track are Max Townsley (guitar), Chelsea Danielle (vibes) and Jordache Grant (keyboards). Smith has been performing “I Can’t Help It” in her live set for years with many of the musicians on the recording.
“After years of performing it with my band, different sections and parts of the arrangements started to form organically. Honestly, it was only decided that it would be a single because of audience demand. After every show, fans ask where they could purchase that arrangement. So, I decided we would give the people what they wanted. One of the qualities that I’m most proud of when it comes to my music is that everything I do is always organic and natural. Even down to the musicians I choose to record with. The musicians on this record, and on all of my recordings, are musicians I play with regularly. They are people who have been a part of my musical journey from the beginning, so the synergy is a given. I love that everything I put out is made with love with people I genuinely love,” said the Dallas-based Smith who grew up in Augusta, Georgia.
“I Can’t Help It” previews Smith’s sophomore album, “In The Rain,” which is due to arrive next spring. Although this single is a reimagination, all the other songs on the collection are originals that Smith had a hand in writing. She debuted in 2016 with the “Sunkissed” album that was released by Concord Records, which offered a mix of originals and covers.