Meaghan Smith

The Cricket's Orchestra

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As the first decade of the 21st century headed toward a close and sales of recorded music continued to decline, the major record labels became increasingly selective about what new artists they would sign. So, it's worth asking what would induce one of them (in this case, the Sire imprint of Warner Music) to take on a modestly talented, rather precious young singer/songwriter from Nova Scotia named Meaghan Smith. But the answer is obvious upon listening to her debut full-length album, The Cricket's Orchestra, which incorporates all four songs from her debut EP The Cricket's Quartet. One of the things about major record labels that makes them so bad at picking new talent is that the best they can do is choose something that they think sounds enough like something that's already successful, and Sire/Warner obviously hopes it has run into the next Norah Jones with Smith. (Conversely, it also must be hoping that, unlike another major, Sony's Columbia Records, it has not run into another troublemaker like Nellie McKay, to take another example of an artist of the same type.)

From the sound of her music, Smith spent her years growing up in Canada listening to some combination of old Joni Mitchell albums and old 78s from the '20s; occasionally, she may have tried applying a hip-hopper's scratch technique to those records. Basically, she's your standard acoustic-guitar- or piano-playing sensitive singer/songwriter, with a baby-doll voice reminiscent of Leigh Nash, formerly of Sixpence None the Richer. But producer Les Cooper has tricked out her songs with gimmicky arrangements to get some of that Norah Jones adult pop/vaguely jazzy feel. (Indeed, some attempt apparently is being made to sell Smith as a "jazz" artist; she is no such thing.) "If You Asked Me" has a big-band arrangement and a vibraphone solo; "Soft Touch" boasts an accordion and strings; "You Got Out" is relaxed rockabilly in the manner of early k.d. lang. And so on. But repeatedly, Smith sings wistful ballads in a slightly detached way over simple piano chords as her producer tries to repeat the formula of Jones' Grammy-winning hit "Don't Know Why." It doesn't really work, and it wouldn't be to Smith's credit if it did. This young artist may turn out to have more ability than she demonstrates on this derivative debut. Maybe next time she'll try sounding more like herself.

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