Sound: Vocalist April Smith and her band The Great Picture Show give riverboat ragtime a modern look on their new CD Songs For A Sinking Ship. With a mix of cabaret, swing, big band, and showtunes, Smith and company blend vintage cotton-club ragtime with contemporary theatrical-pop producing an arsenal of vibrantly hued tunes and infectious melodies that are made for the big stage. The dance grooves of Movie Loves A Screen have a New Orleans style and voluminous swells that reverberate with a big band blitz. The thickness and flexibility in Smith's timbres are on pare with Christina Aguilera, and the burlesque swagger that she struts in Terrible Things have a noir jazz quality. The slow strides anchoring Drop Dead Gorgeous have a torchy glint as guitarist Marty O'Kane feathers out gently across the lightly bouncing keys of keyboardist Brandon Lowry and the rhythm section follows along their languid steps.
The saloon style of the piano keys and horns in Can't Say No have a slinky swagger carriaged by a tottering rhythm, which turns to a whimpering bellow in What'll I Do as fluttering strands of strings hover over Smith's vocals. The upbeat tempo of Colors gels traditional swing with modern theatrics and the mid-tempo kicks of The One That Got Away court a folk-pop vibe with a cabaret fizzle. The jumping swells and jittery piano vamp of Wow And Flutter shares characteristics with 30s big bands, while the carousal spins of Stop Wondering have a modern jazz shadowing. Smith teeters between the bluesy-soppy ballads of Beloved and Dixie Boy to the wild jaunts that rankle Movie Loves A Screen with an adventurous spirit enticing audiences to want to join her through these gateways. // 9
Lyrics: Smith's lyrics run through a gamut of emotions from expressing eternal love to waking up from being delusion by love. In Beloved she vows, You were the thrill that stilled my beating heart, baby / You are the one I'll dream the most / But if I cannot have the real thing / I'll gladly settle for your ghost / And you can haunt these halls all you want / And if I ever leave / I will take you with me. While in Drop Dead Gorgeous, she does a complete reversal, Now I'm staring into those vacant eyes / Trying to figure out if you've understood a single word that I've said / Is there anything going on in that pretty little head? / Because if you're just drop dead gorgeous / You should just drop dead. Smith might love like an angle but she stings like a black widow. // 8
Overall Impression: April Smith And The Great Picture Show have an album that transcends whatever musical preferences people have. Not many folks listen to swing, ragtime or big band music, but they will likely enjoy Songs For A Sinking Ship. Produced by Dan Romer (Ingrid Michaelson, Jenny Owen Youngs), the album merges old-school burlesque with modern pop delivered in a sassy swagger. Born in Toms River, New Jersey and currently based in Brooklyn, New York, April Smith makes dance-pop her way, and it's a blend that tastes good on any palate. // 9