Every once in a while, you come across an interesting irony, when an artist's material is actually stronger than the artist. Think back, for instance, to Leonard Cohen, who couldn't carry a tune in a handbag. Kris Kristofferson, neither. They came up with catalogs of marvelous songs that everyone who covered them sang better.
Pop-R&B performer Caroline Smith isn't likely to ascend to such annals. She does, however, have a good hand at songwriting. While she sings better than Cohen or Kristofferson, in that she stays on key, that's pretty much all there is to recommend her album Half About Being a Woman. The writing and arrangements draw on a proven, charts-tested formula of fairly inventive melodies set to slick production.
For that matter, her lyrics (what the ear can make out) aren't half bad, either. "Walking Off Strong," for instance, lays down a sardonic storyline about a woman is not about to beg a man to stick around when he doesn't know he's got a good thing. Lines like "There's no time for negotiation/ You treated me bad" and "I keep moving on/ 'Cause I know what I need...a man who knows what he wants." How can you fault her on that? Her touch with a tune is, for the most part, money in the bank. Even the numbers that don't work would come across well with a full-throated vocalist at the mic.
The thing, in fact, is Smith's vocals, pleasant enough, easily listenable, are thin—with cookie-cutter phrasing. Pursuant to which, tight writing or no, there are times she lapses into wholly pretentious posturing, waxing Teena-Marie-style static. "Kind Of Man," arguably the lowest point on the recording, fails lyrically, boiling down to mundane music that leaves her generally weak voice laid bare. The title cut sounds like a watered-down remake of Carole King's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."
"All That I Know Is (I'm Your Baby)" is a cut of which there should be a great deal more on the disc. The cute melody and sweet, upbeat arrangement bring to mind En Vogue, when girl groups enjoyed a hey-day of putting out nice, commercial stuff. Other than that, this is a largely uneventful outing.
See Meredith Westin's photos of Caroline Smith's album release show at First Avenue.