Shan Smile is a soul singer-songwriter based in South London, who also incorporates gospel, reggae and folk influences into her work. She regards her music usually of an “inspirational and positive” slant.
Speaking of inspirational, her inspirations are listed such as Ledisi, Mali Music, Lianne La Havas and Alicia Keys. In fact, the latter, having seen Shan sing her “In Common” track, raved, “This is beautiful!! And that voice!!!”
Real name Shanice Smith, she already has an album, My Debut Album (2011), and an EP, He Loves Me (2013), under her belt. Both projects consisted of completely original material, and her latest EP Prisoner Of Hope, was released on Friday, September 9.
The dramatically titled “Prisoner Of Hope” opens the EP with bleak, jazzy arpeggio guitar and soulful vocals. Strings add an extra graveness to proceedings. It then builds up, almost with rocking power. Said strings dip in and out to accentuate the beautiful vocal and guitar work. The dynamics, going from calm to ballsy all out, are exemplary.
“Can’t Run All Night Long” has a real groove and swing to it, a real energy. It’s almost like guitar driven, sassy soul. Clapping hands give the arrangement a definite shot in the arm, though raucous enough to probably go without it. That syncopated guitar riff underpins the whole thing, the aforementioned groove and swing.
She lays all bare in “I Need You”, with its sedate guitar and heartfelt vocals. The lyrics, as per the song title, plead for help, with the piano dwelling in melancholy yet still beautiful. Aspects of her singing voice are like Jessie J, just with a range more subtle and less likely to set off car alarms. Having said that, the voice does eventually soar, and quite powerful at that.
“Prove You Wrong” swings like classic soul, perhaps in the mould of any all lady Motown act. Rocking guitar fuzzes and wails in the backdrop, with some shimmering percussion to wash over the listener. Her vocals, with that stabbing swing of the rhythm section, become impassioned. Pure belting it out.
Closing sizeably with the superb “Shan Shan Smile” (co-written with Anna Krantz) we find the anthem of the album, a potential hit single. It packs a punch with its triumphant backdrop, set against some soulful vocals seemingly rooted in the blues. The feel of gospel also permeates, the triumph of suffering, endeavour and, ultimately, redemption. Even if it was you wronged in the first place, kind of thing.
Tracks of particular note are “Can’t Run All Night Long”, “I Need You” and, as said, “Shan Shan Smile”. An excellent return for a five track EP. “Can’t Run All Night Long”, with that syncopated guitar riff, for instance, is addictive with its groove and swing. Perhaps rockers with a slightly heavier taste in music would appreciate this, too. This reviewer certainly did.
Then “I Need You” displays perfectly how to sing with power and authority without making dogs howl for miles on end. Far too many, particularly female, performers in this approximate genre overegg their voice with endless adlibbing.
Final highlight, as you’d expect from all read previous, is “Shan Shan Smile”. It’s triumphalism and general gospel feel is a heady mix, and it’s a winning one. This could also be interpreted in the more metaphorical sense, as gospel, generally, evoking emotions of overcoming all no matter what the obstacle.
Even the EP opener is quite good, though. The strings in title track, “Prisoner Of Hope”, are expertly used coming in and out when needed. Excellent dynamics. “Prove You Wrong”, on the other hand, evokes, satisfyingly, the feel of an all lady Motown group. What’s more, akin to the syncopated guitar moment in “Can’t Run All Night Long”, there’s some tasteful rock guitar. This, again, helps appeal to those with, perhaps, heavier tastes in music.
Shan Smile has managed to stay true to her favoured sound yet, at the same time, has given listeners a good taste of the variety of approaches she has to her work. She’s certainly diverse, and her range is strong with no need for the top of the lung, soul histrionics many women in the genre are guilty of. Shan Smile’s Prisoner Of Hope EP can be heard on iTunes here.
Words by Andrew Watson