While Kelly Sweet’s We Are One is the disc you want to listen to this month to put your heart in a quiet place for a silent, holy night, the versatile bassist, singer and songwriter Rhonda Smith’s RS2 is the one you’ll want to put on when you’re hosting that Christmas party. For those who are currently digging Alicia Keys’ latest joint As I Am, Smith’s hot indie disc will make a nice companion, full of funk and supercool slo-jams.
One of the greatest things about having a steady, lucrative side gig—in Smith’s case, nearly ten years playing with Prince—is the freedom to create a solo project that happily defies any easy genre categorization. Of course, it’s also nice to have Prince himself in the house, lending a promotional quote (“This is Rhonda…and SHE is funky!”) and his crunchy lead and rhythm guitars to the old school soul rock jam “Time.” Smith says it all about the eclectic nature of her disc in the half-minute industrial vibing intro called “What Do They Think Music Is.” She answers that in many ways throughout, beginning with the adventurous sensuous soul meets trippy electronica tune “To Get With You” and engaging in some biting commentary about an emotionally stunted lover on the sparse, percussive neo soul-jazz piece “Lost Child.” “Always” moves into progressive urban smooth jazz territory, with Smith focusing more on the melodic capabilities of her axe, accompanied by Ron James’ soprano sax and some gently echoing background vocals. “Why Criticize” takes this same road, complementing its long intro with a brief dose of Smith’s most beautiful vocals. “Grind” eventually turns into a passionate and sexy mid-tempo vocal piece, but its extended intro will remind smooth jazz fans of Wayman Tisdale’s best plucky bass driven ballads. There are also some percussive jazzy elements on the hypnotic closer “Ray of Light.”
Smith never stays in one place too long, however zipping next to the swampy, front porch blues declaring her love for “Country Music.” “Sunshine” is like an avant-garde mish mash of gospel, electronica, jazz and world percussion—bright as promised, while “It’s You” is a sweet but very conventional mid-tempo duet with gospel legend Fred Hammond. If there’s a mainstream hit here, that’s the one; it’s not the most original tune in the bunch, but it’s a safe entry point to Smith’s intensely creative free-for-all world. Check her out!