Hearing Jean Smith do an album without David Lester anywhere on it is a bit strange in ways, but this is a solo effort straight up and then some -- all instruments are played by her, from saxophone to guitars to cymbals, and then there's her instantly recognizable voice, though often used in much different ways here. From the start, with the instrumental "Ghost of Understanding" -- one of several songs where Smith doesn't sing a word -- the tone of the album is much more Xpressway than K Records. Rather than simply trying to do Mecca Normal without Lester, Smith takes the opportunity to create a series of mysterious, ambient/lo-fi experiments, calling to mind similarities with the work of 2 Foot Flame bandmate Peter Jefferies. There's the same sense of shadowy but compelling playing, and the use of prominent piano on "Root Smooth Sapling Whips," at nearly ten minutes the longest song presented, and the Laurie Anderson-reminiscent "A Little Black Dress" further suggests the comparison while not specifically cloning his style. "Root Smooth," for instance, is more hushed and steady than frenetic or sweeping, the interplay of Smith's piano and sax often just plain heartbreaking. What's also remarkable about the album is its sense of careful beauty -- consider the way that acoustic guitar is gently played almost like an autoharp amid the queasy electric sound on "Siamese Hips," or the spindly electric guitar on "The Story of History." When Smith's voice comes to the fore on songs like "Snippet From Hell" or the concluding "Halfway," the more common pointed tone of her Mecca Normal work is set aside for more contemplative singing, though the lyrical bite remains strong.
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett