Irish Internet Radio and TV from Dublin, Ireland.
Five years ago, I was happily driving down the road, minding my own business and listening to the album, Fire In The Kitchen by The Chieftains. Isn’t that a great title? It is one of those Chieftains’ multi-artist things—this one featuring Nova Scotian and Quebecoix artists. You know the drill. Chieftains, plus several guest stars.
Then, it came on. There it was. Nova Scotia’s Laura Smith singing her version of My Bonnie. Now, this is going to sound like hype, but I assure you, it is not. I was stunned. Gobsmacked to my socks. I’ve been involved in the music business for 48 years, and writing about Celtic music for 25. Countless radio shows and articles. And, there it was. I had to pull the car off the road, right by a stoplight. I listened to it three times in a row until I had digested it enough to drive safely. That voice. A full, gorgeous, deeply moving alto. This is a woman singing. No whining, soprano sean nos out of a 17 year old child. This is a woman. Best voice I’ve ever heard in the music. That alone is the deal. But….BUT…there are these songs. Combine Laura Smith’s voice and her indescribable song writing talent with lyrics and deeply moving melodies, and you have genius. Don’t fear that word. I have written thousands of reviews over the years, covering what seems like millions of artists. Laura Smith is the only genius I have covered. Oh, there is Shaun Davey, Ireland’s greatest orchestral composer. But, Laura Smith is another universe. Musically, in every way, Laura Smith is not simply the best. She is a genius.
So, I called her. I was really, really cool. “Hello, Laura Smith? This is Bill Margeson, and I’m a music journalist down here, and you’re the best. I’m your biggest fan. Your biggest, biggest, biggest fan. Can I come to Canada and carry your bags? Do the laundry? Answer the phone? Can I please just hang around with you?” Laura was amused, for about five minutes. I sensed the wind change in her voice, as she began to feel she may be experiencing her first-ever stalker. I changed tack. We started talking about her, and the cd with The Chieftains. I fell in love. No, not like that. As a friend. There are few people more fun to talk with than Laura when the alchemy is right. But, after a few more calls, I began to realize the alchemy was not right. Not at all right.
Let’s get through the next bit asap. Like, 16 or 17 years ago, Laura is sitting on a fence in some idyllic setting in Canada. She was a queen of Canadian music then. Hit cd’s, huge fan base, musical respect, money, the whole bit. Then here came the horse. Laura was quite a horsewoman in those days. Still loves them. This horse comes tearing around the outside edge of some woods and begins running at the fence Laura is sitting on. Headed straight for the fence AND Laura! The horse has obviously thrown its rider. Full gallop, saddle sideways. Out of control. Running right at her, obviously panicked. But, Laura knew what to do. You stand up, take off your jacket and start waving it up and down. That will stop the horse and make it rear up. Still scared, but no longer running right at you. The horse never slowed down. Ran right into her. She was thrown off her feet about 20 feet into the air and backwards about 20 yards. Then, she died twice in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Slow recovery. She had died twice, for God’s sakes! Then, fast forward this evil video tape a couple years, and we find her walking past a restaurant to her car with a friend. There was work going on in the parking lot. She never saw the seven foot hole. No markers, no barricades. Nothing. Sunny day, asphalt. Down she went, tearing her back apart, as it was just recovering from the horse ride from hell. She is a type of accident diviner. Then, years of therapy. Well, not therapy, really. More like a succession of different doctors prescribing different drugs to handle the pain. Which, of course, is not therapy at all. We enter a dark, dark time, which was when I first met her. She had been in this hell for about 10 years when I called her the first time.
When all this was slowly shared with me, I knew three things. She was going to get better—the spark was still there. Way, way down—but still there. She was still a genius. You can’t stop being a genius, can you? And, I knew there would eventually be this album. When it is all said and done, I have never known a fighter like her. Muhammad Ali, move over. No, there could and would be more for her to give, but she was in pretty sad shape. Taking 22,413 prescribed pain killers (well, it sounds like that many), can leave a woman pretty wounded. Hours on the phone with her. And, then more hours. What a woman! You have just heard the most squeezed condensation of a woman’s hell you are likely ever to read. Because, her struggles are not the story here. The full story could go for pages. The real story here is her victory.
There are, in fact, two huge victories here. One is that she has beaten her dependency issues with the pain killers—which is the most important thing. She is the most open person I’ve ever heard talk about this type of thing. I saw a video of an interview in Toronto with her where she went into detail, totally open. Courageously. What a help she must be to others facing this kind of hell.
The second victory is this album, Everything is Moving. The Canadian thrush flies again. There are 10 songs. They include the Irish, Napoleonic trad song, Lonely Waterloo, which opens the album. She first heard Frank Harte sing it. There is also the beautiful, Horses and Plough (her intro to that song was Colm O’Donnell of Sligo.) Magdalen McGillivray is another masterpiece. Yet another highlight is Inspiration, written by Laura’s friend, the massively gifted, singer, song writer and pianist, Nova Scotian, Kim Dunn. Written apparently, for every songwriter in the world waiting for Inspiration.
Then, there are the five she has written. I Built a Boat is an epic, musical statement about going all out for love one more time. We’ve all been there. Broken hearted, but willing to give the dance one more twirl, and so we build our boat. But, Laura has the gift to explain it all to us. Safe Home Sweet Light is Laura’s newest song, I think. It was written after she lost a dear friend. There should be a United Nations resolution requiring it to be played at every funeral or memorial service anywhere in the world. We have all lost loved ones, but I have never heard a song put it all in focus for us that is anywhere near this. It ends up being very, very comforting. Takes genius to do that. Somebody break your heart? Listen to What Goes Around, and you’ll sit back and smile. The Blues and I is just indescribable, so I won’t try. It is so intimate, I felt I was listening in on a private conversation between Laura and herself.
Great musicians on the job, as well. Tony McManus, former Male Musician of the Year here, is on guitar and other string stuff. And, then, on two tunes, there is Guido Basso. He is a Canadian musical legend, and the world’s best flugelhorn player. Laura Smith, Guido Basso and Tony McManus. Geesh. Wow! Other great accompanists join in, and there is even a lovely string quartet on a couple tunes. I have never listened to an album more times, including Ray Charles. There are, of course Laura’s previous bits of master albums from the 80’s and 90’s. They were GREAT albums. But, this. This….. Of all of the literally thousands of albums I have told you about over the years, get this one. Everything Is Moving. You will be the better for it. I promise.
Look, here’s the thing. For a long time, I arrogantly assumed I was being a real help to Laura through the bottom of the well. Nah. Not at all. Here’s the secret. After all these years, she is the one helping me. I understand a lot more now. I see a lot better now. Her genius is so basic, I reckon she was saved and renewed to help all of us. Wisdom meets heart, and then re-introduced to all of us. Thank you, Laura
Album available here for download: Borealisrecords.com.
Add a Comment