April Smith’s New York homecoming was confirmation of just how solidly crafted the impeccable string of songs she’s recorded with her “boys”, the Great Picture Show, are. Commanding her band from the Mercury Lounge’s quaint stage, the tracks of Songs for a Singking Ship were transformed into barrelhouse stompers and sing-a-longs, all under the direction of Ms. Smith’s powerful alto.
The show opened, however, under the guise of her gentle voice and “The One That Got Away”, its viscosity oozing all the way into “Drop Dead Gorgeous”. On the latter Marty O’Kane’s guitar punched through bright chords over the band’s tight sways until Smith summed up her macabre panache: “if you’re just drop dead gorgeous/ you should just drop dead”. The sweet “Movies Loves a Screen” was typical of the shuffles the Great Picture Show nailed with ease all night.
Smith’s voice was a torrent of sonorousness on songs like the domineering “Dixie Boy” and “Terrible Things” (inspired by her favorite TV show, Dexter). At the same time it could be agile and dolce, like on “Beloved” and “Can’t Say No”, a strutting New Orleans-style ballad.
While Smith seemed to have the crowd in the palm of her hand since they paid cover at the door, the boisterous bonhomie of “Colors” was inescapable. Its benign melody and gradually balancing tones disguised the fact that one knows the words to its bouncy, “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” chorus the second time around.
If Sinking Ship is considered Pop it’s strictly because of the collection’s instantly familiar melodies and ubiquitous appeal. Stylistically it touches on big band, Tin Pan Alley, Queen, and old-time balladry and story-telling. (Smith encouraged dancing the Charleston at one point). That Sinking Ship is more or less her full-length debut makes it all the more stunning.
Photos by Thomas Hauner