I was first drawn to Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps’ 2011 album Little Wind. Because I was streaming Sarah Jaffe’s Suburban Nature album on a near-constant basis, Spotify recommended Caroline Smith to me. I’m almost alarmed at how accurately Spotify seems to predict my taste these days. Maybe I’m simply lacking in musical variety lately, which may explain why I feel a mixture of writer’s block and deja vu when writing music reviews as of late. But I digress.
Songs such as “Shoulders Strong” and “Tanktop” snuck up on me with their subtle instrumentation and catchy melodies, proving Spotify to be 100% correct. While the Little Wind album is inherently easy to listen to, it has more cool and personality than that phrase might originally suggest. “Eagle’s Nest” has a soulful but anthemic quality to it as the chorus builds and swells in a beautiful round. “Scholarships” always sneaks up on me as the introduction of twinkling bell sounds transforms into a full indie jam. Full of sass and attitude, the penultimate track, “Denim Boy,” hints at the new direction which Smith’s music has taken with her most recent release. Smith’s quirky sense of humor certainly places its mark upon her lyrics but fails to undermine the sincerity of her songs. Little Wind is a cohesive and continually satisfying little piece of musical craftsmanship that I can’t help listening to again and again.
Her most recent release sheds the Goodnight Sleeps backing band and adds a little more soul and R&B to the mix. I wasn’t immediately drawn to this change since it was such a departure from the sound I had only recently fallen for. But once I found a few videos of Caroline’s new tunes performed live, they grew on me and filled a girl-power void in my heart that I didn’t realize was there. There is plenty of heartbreak and heartache in these songs, satisfying the blues component of that R&B label. But a defiant streak of female empowerment underlies all the tunes, further fueled by the addition of two ladies singing back up.
The title track “Half About Being a Woman” is just one such song – and it was the first one that really hooked me to the new turn in Caroline’s musical aesthetic. I’m a sucker for those intense vocal crescendos, when a singer puts all her raw emotion and talent into belting out the lyrics she so perfectly composed. Though the highly polished album track wasn’t an immediate favorite of mine, one particular live video (posted below) captivated a side of this song that rang more authentic to me. And then I couldn’t get it out of my head. The first single “Magazine” also highlights Caroline’s brilliant arrangement of back up vocals and the lady power sensibilities of her new album.
Though I only discovered Ms. Smith two weeks ago, I took advantage of the opportunity to see her perform a few days ago at World Cafe Live at the Queen in Wilmington. Caroline took the stage with just an acoustic guitar and her two back up singers. Despite the seemingly meager arrangement, she captured the intimate room with her surprisingly vibrant sound, cool harmonies, and general adorableness. From her palpable presence onstage to her ability to draw so much musical entertainment out of so few accompaniments, it was plainly obvious to me that Caroline Smith is heading for even better things in a big way.