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Friday, September 24, 2010

Sahara Smith - Myth Of The Heart

Sahara Smith - Myth Of The Heart
2010, Playing In Traffic

Sahara Smith first came to national attention in 2004, placing second in a contest for young songwriters on A Prairie Home Companion. Six years later, the now 21-year old singer/songwriter from Wimberley, Texas is ready for the big time with her debut album, Myth Of The Heart. Under the guiding hand of T-Bone Burnett and produced by his longtime colleague Emile Kelman, Myth Of The Heart shows Smith as a dynamic young artist who is ready for the world. Myth Of The Heart features instrumental support from Jay Bellerose (drums); Marc Rinot (guitar) and Dennis Crouch (bass), as well as Smith's regular band.

Myth Of The Heart opens with "Thousand Secrets", and what an introduction. Smith tells a story from the perspective of the ocean; seeing all things that happen in its presence with many of those stories slipping away from human knowledge like the undertow pulls away from the shore. It's a deeply philosophical look at life from the perspective of all we don't know. The melody is highly memorable, and Smith's voice has a lush beauty that's tempered with a hard edge underneath; a beautiful instrument with the icy sheen of a historian of human events beneath. "Are You Lonely" starts out promisingly but devolves into a repetitive and somewhat closing chorus. The song explores the human need to be needed even if for one night and is well written minus the chorus. "Train Man" sounds like it should be a Roy Orbison cover, with a melody line that sounds a bit like an excerpt from Chris Isaak's "Wicked Games" at times. It's a well-written tune, and Smith certainly gives it her all, but the result is just a bit too derivative.

"Tin Man Town" takes more of a traditional country turn, and Smith's voice absolutely shines in this lonely ballad about living in a two-dimensional world. Smith turns up the heat a bit in "The Real Thing", adding some naughty girl oomph to a quiet anthem about breaking out of the norm and starting new someplace else. On the surface this is a plea to escape, but there's a darker, more carnal message underneath that Smith conveys very well. If Sahara Smith makes a big impression on commercial radio from Myth Of The Heart it's likely to be in the form of "Angel", a quiet, contemplative ballad about the tragedy of watching the one you love slip away. "Angel" is takes on the voice of the middle of the night when all is still and love and knowledge mix in an uneasy embrace where want and need diverge. "All I Need" takes a more positive tone, an affirming love song about being all you can for the one you love. This one has mix-tape written all over it.

"Myth Of The Heart" shows a highly cynical view of love, fearful of the myth of love and viewing it as a justification for procreation, in essence. It's an interesting song, a caricature in bleak that's very modern and yet very old in origin. It's not Smith's best performance on the album, but is an intriguing bit of songwriting. "Midnight Plane" is a mournful ballad of coming home that's more about the journey than the destination. There's a solitary beauty in this song, a dignity that's above human grace and yet of its most base nature. "Mermaid" is an interesting vignette, the memories of a soul who sees little hope in life, but is touched by memories of places she's never been and a voice calling out to her in the dark of night. Smith's voice is never more beautiful here, frail in the darkness and yet full of an ethereal glow. Myth Of The Heart closes with "Twilight Red", a mournful song of love lost. Smith pines on the loss and the effect the passing of time will have. It's a brave performance; dynamic in its depths and rich in vocal texture, recalling some of the slower, darker material of Sarah McLachlan.

Sahara Smith has seemed to have the world on her plate for a number of years now. The exposure she received from A Prairie Home Companion certainly seemed appropriate at the time, but it takes a lot to transform such a start into staying power as an artist. It might be a bit early for prognostication, but if Myth Of The Heart is any indication Sahara Smith will be around for many years to come. Smith walks a darker path vocally than many young artists, using her unorthodox vocal sound to plumb the depths of human sorrow extensively on the album. This works for Smith because even in the depths of misery she conveys a hope for better things. This dark incandescence is a vocal quality few artists can attain, much less maintain over the course of a song cycle. Even with songwriting that is up and down, Sahara Smith shines in the darkness.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Sahara Smith at Of The Heart is available via as a Myth of the Heart or Myth Of The Heart.  Digital copies are also available via iTunes.

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