Sahara Smith

Myth of the Heart

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The debut album of young singer/songwriter Sahara Smith is a classic case of talent misplaced. Smith is a gifted writer, but Myth of the Heart mostly obscures that fact instead of underlining it. The lion's share of the blame would seem to lie with the production. Part of the problem is the arrangements with which producer Emile Kelman surrounds Smith's songs -- the generic alt-Americana settings aren't unpleasant in any overt way, but they go so far out of their way to be tasteful and atmospheric that they just end up sounding sodden and dull. Instead of adding a little bit of edge to the proceedings, the production winds up blurring whatever edges already exist in the songs, and deadening their impact with reverberant steel guitar lines and dusty, heaven-in-the-desert textures. Kelman also seems to have missed the fact that Smith's greatest gift is her lyrical ability. There's a real poetry to her pen, and there's no shortage of examples of that throughout the album. The trouble is, you may have to go to the lyric sheet in order for most of them to register. Smith's voice has the kind of floating, ethereal tone that would probably work fine if she were primarily an interpreter à la Emmylou Harris, but her own songs are the central focus here. Her delivery winds up being simply too soft, too pretty, and too pastel-hued to put the lyrics across with the push they deserve. Ideally, Kelman could have caught this, and either compensated for it in the production, or coached her toward a different vocal tactic; instead, the producer makes matters worse by sonically fetishizing the cloud-like qualities of Smith's voice and letting it float away from the listener, far out of reach in a puffy, smoke-like swirl.

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