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Hollie Smith - Humour and the Misfortune of Others

By Russell Baillie

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Rating: * * * * *

The problem with Hollie Smith's 2007 debut Long Player - prize-winning and big-selling affair that it was - was its politeness. Smith often seemed like a guest star on her own set. The songs fell short of the voice behind them too. It came with a much-trumpeted signing with Blue Note records, a deal which fell apart when - it seems - the supposed "artist's" label attempted an A&R makeover then shrugged her off.

If Smith was wounded by the experience, then her songs have reaped the benefit.

She's toughened up the delivery, worked her way through her influences and bent them into a set of songs which melodically and lyrically are a quantum leap from Long Player.

It's an album which doesn't lack for the sort of soul-shaped balladry we've come to expect of voices like hers. The likes of Finding Home swings from its spartan beginnings into a sort of Aretha in Wonderland and back again; the closing Will You Be The One? probably has a future date playing behind a slow-motion scene of romantic despondency; while on the likes of Brothers, Friends, Lovers or Humour Smith pours out so much R&B heart you start to worry for her other internal organs.

But the aces in this winning hand are its big angry and/or anguished anthems, clearly venting about her life and career's ups and downs.

That's whether it's the opening Mamma; or Let Me Go's wiry gothic blues (with mad scorching guitar work by Tyson Smith); or the album's scorching centrepiece Overtime, which deploys Darren Mathiassen's dramatic drums and Crete Haami's fuzz-bass to stoke the fire beneath Smith's hell-hath-no-fury vocals.

There are tracks which just play nice. The gentle country lope of Why Can't We Get Along might be flimsy but it's blessed light relief in this company. And its light and shade - necessary for a voice that doesn't really have an "off" switch - is the making of this terrific record. Ms Smith's first album may have been too polite, this one is feisty and rude and all the better for it.

- NZ Herald

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