The easiest way to locate Ms. Meaghan Smith on the North American music map would be to tag her as the female Michael Bublé: fresh voice, big-band arrangements, Canadian. That would greatly diminish what she tries to accomplish with her debut LP.
The Cricket’s Orchestra is both fun and painstakingly honest. Its most valuable quality is the fact that Smith’s personality constantly seethes through the music without her ever making it an obvious priority. In short, she reads as an unassuming, recreational musician who was offered the opportunity to take her music to a whole new level – all of which is mostly true.
“Heartbroken”, one of the most widely appealing tracks on The Cricket’s Orchestra, spells out the makeup of the entire album: romantic vintage. Ms. Smith never shies away from pouring her heart out, or rather into her lyrics, melodies and arrangements. Her words make her sound as though she comes form a previous time. She loves talking about things like post, and still finds adequate uses for words like “rouse” and “askew”.
Although Smith keeps a pretty mellow mood throughout the record, she also finds occasions to mix it up, wartime-era style, with numbers like “If You Asked Me”. Sitting perfectly right with Smith’s vocal style, they also turn out to be something singular and compelling amidst today’s ample assortment of music from female vocalists.
“A Little Love” is probably her most obvious reach to step outside, though not far-flung from, the box. There is a more playful set of strings, intermixed with some other modern arrangements. The song was actually produced with the help of the Canadian DJ Kid Koala. Although the collaboration does bring forth some charming results, the record scratching can sound a bit far-fetched at times in this context.
The middle part of the album is the weakest branch. Songs like “Poor”, “Drifted Apart” and “Take Me Dancing” sound all too habitual for Smith. None are straight up dire, but while the latter runs the risk of sounding music-theater like, the first two only seem like safe wadding.
“A Piece for You” and “Soft Touch” showcase some beautiful vocal melodies, and continue to expose the serious romantic injuries Smith used as inspiration for her music. “My hopes evaporate and come down with the rain,” Smith sings on “Soft Touch”, aided by an immaculate diction that rivals that of old cinema actresses.
After a long streak of mild-tempo tracks, “You Got Out” comes in near the end as a much needed pick-me-up. Right from the start, it seems way more loose, thanks to the fact that Smith gives in to indulgences and comes up with some motivating results. The Cricket’s Orchestra turns out to be an accomplished display of craftsmanship. It is thoughtfully composed, skillfully instrumented, and effectively produced. Nevertheless, some of the artist’s other handiwork, such as her Pixies cover of the classic “Here Comes Your Man”, done for the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack, prove that Smith holds some unchartered territory she still needs to explore. The conjunction of her natural talents and burgeoning curiosity will unquestionably turn around some brilliant projects.