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Album Reviews

Gizelle Smith - Ruthless Day

Gizelle Smith – Ruthless Day

Nine years on from her debut album with The Mighty Mocambos, Gizelle Smith is back - and with an album that was worth the wait. Bringing together classic soul and modern funk, she showcases her now fully-formed character across 40 minutes of crisp basslines, sharp horns, and take-no-prisoners vocals.

The unmistakeable tone of the album sends a very clear message - and that message is, ‘don’t fuck with Gizelle Smith’. Fiercely expressive opener ‘Dust’ condenses all the frustration of her long time away into four minutes, politely inviting you to deal with it. From the no nonsense funk-rock of ‘Scared of Something’, to the rough vocal performance and merciless lyrics of ‘Hey Romeo’, a fiery picture of Smith emerges that contributes a lot to the album’s coarse aesthetic.

While the album takes a great deal from classic r’n’b and modern funk, there’s a very definite soundscape to the record that saves it from being a simple funkification of vintage soul, and makes it much, much more. Listen carefully and you’ll hear things like the space echo on ‘Love Song’ or futuristic synth sounds on ‘Ruthless Day’. Most strikingly, Smith’s vocals are overdriven throughout, giving the record a consistently harsh texture. It’s these modern touches that make this album a unique resolution of vintage and contemporary sounds.

Its hard and fast side is balanced, though, by several softer tracks. There’s the floating choruses of ‘Love Song’, where Smith steps back, giving up the stage to her band’s luscious instrumental, and two almost painfully smooth efforts featuring Eric Boss, his laid back, street-style exactly counter-balancing Gizelle’s rollercoaster vocals. The subtle horn lines, creeping organ and slippery bassline of ‘Hero’ make it a high point of the album, while ‘S.T.A.Y’ could’ve come right out of America’s early ‘70s r’n’b scene. Across these songs, there’s a palpable sense of space in the writing - Smith has given herself room to breathe, and it’s a massive improvement on her first release.

Encapsulated in its namesake ‘Ruthless Day’ is the narrative that runs through the album. Like her vocal delivery, it’s raw and honest. In an interview with us for radio, Gizelle told us, “I was horribly depressed, that’s why we started writing the album. ‘Ruthless Day’ is literally the day I decided not to go back to Manchester, and started to come out of it. It gave me my purpose back.” While it’s the only song that explicitly makes reference to this, it’s a thread that runs through the album, making it a deeply personal one, and making Smith’s boldness all the more affirming. Thematically, as stylistically, the album carries a lot of weight, balancing experimentation with reproduction, to create something all its own.

Ben Noble

Facebook: facebook.com/gizellesmith
Twitter: twitter.com/gizellesmith
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