Pop-Culture | Posted by Julie Z on 05/13/2012
Support Women Artists Sunday: April Smith and the Great Picture Show
“I was the surprise,” says April Smith, the bonus baby her parents won late and whose moxie and dash astounded everyone she met. Today, she remains a welcome bolt: a loose-lipped, cocked-hip gal whose music and mien could buoy the Titanic.
As she took her place in the family, April developed a muscular, mellifluous voice and high-flying showmanship. Her mom adored Queen (”If you didn’t know a Brian May solo in the first few notes, you weren’t her child”) and her dad gave her his old 8-track tape player, letting her buy Elvis and Led Zeppelin tapes at yard sales. During summer vacations with Aunt Cricket and Uncle Fred, April discovered songwriters like Tom Waits and Kinky Friedman, stealing Fred’s cassettes and absorbing observational story-songs in a backyard tent. Waits so impressed April that she felt compelled to dress up – using Fred’s hat, pipe and Junior Mints (she placed them on her teeth) each time she played his music.
When she began to write songs, she incorporated elements musical and otherwise, some contradictory in theme or vibe – to anyone but April. Because she’d been so diversely inspired, it was a cinch to stitch together Queen’s majesty, big band’s sunny optimism, the terror and despair of horror flicks and Edgar Allan Poe writings, and the cottonmouthed wit and poignancy of Wes Anderson films. From this influential primordial stew came April’s new album Songs for a Sinking Ship.
The album’s sound was informed by the ’30s and ’40s, juke joints and cabaret, the Andrews Sisters and, of course, Waits. Smith covers a wide range as a singer and songwriter, from the heartbroken ballad “Beloved” to the cheeky tell-off “Stop Wondering” and the sexy swagger of “Wow and Flutter.” Her voice swoons and seduces, and then escalates to breathtaking peaks, backed by piano, upright bass, drums, guitar, horns, ukulele, accordion and even, when the occasion warrants, a suitcase used as a bass drum.
Her songs and her playful, confident performances – in which she’ll wear a tutu and impishly tease her band, The Great Picture Show – now win her fans everywhere.