Catchy CD: Tin Heart has a hook

Jan Smith’s amalgamation of folk, country, bluegrass, and pop is on prominent display on her new debut CD, Tin Heart, has something that many (I’d say most) multi-genre forays seem to be lacking. That mystery piece of the puzzle, the element that brings a smile to your face and changes your physical involvement with the tune from mildly interested toe-tapping into steering wheel beat-boxing, is the hook. That little segment of a song that you hum when you’re alone, and wait for each time you hear a tune, that’s the hook– and Jan Smith has loads of them.
From the first song on Tin Heart we are treated to the sweet, simple instrumentation that stays a constant through the rest of the album. Smith provides rhythm guitar and clean soft(ish) vocals that occasionally sound like some strange mixture of Edie Brickell and Joni Mitchell, with Mary Lucey providing some extremely tight and well placed harmony vocals.
Permanent band members, besides Smith, are Tom Proutt on lead guitar, Jeff Vogelgesang on mandolin and guitar, and Gerald Soriano on upright bass. Smith’s voice sounds perfectly at home fronting this Americana setup; the usual bluegrass rules are in effect on some songs– when the vocals break at the end of a melody line, up come the instrumental flourishes. These are provided by Proutt or Vogelgesang– often trading off on their respective instruments, sometimes playing together– but always they are well played and written in a way that furthers the piece.
Some of Smith’s lyrics really knocked me out as well. A verse from her song “Ionesco’s Chair” goes, “You’ll be the stone, you’ll be the spark/ and the fun down in the dark/and the name I whisper into my pillow.” Her words vacillate from heart-on-the-sleeve confessions to clever imagery– just when you get placid and lost in the music, a quick line or phrase makes you sit up and really listen.
Smith came to Charlottesville in 1999, with the intention of just visiting a friend– she ended up making the city her home, after discovering the benefits of our cohesive musical community. Three prime members of this community, folk singer/songwriters Paul Curreri and Danny Schmidt, and Americana espouser Terri Allard (the last two also are featured on Tin Heart) are guests for Smith’s CD release party at Starr Hill. If you go, be prepared for a walloping load of acoustic music, thrown down by some of the best songwriters this town has to offer. Jan Smith has already carved out a little section of Charlottesville fame; with the release of Tin Heart, she’s on her way to making it big in points beyond

The Jan Smith Band CD Release Party with Paul Curreri, Danny Schmidt, and Terri Allard at Starr Hill, October 25.
$7, 9pm. 977-0017

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