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A Welcome Throwback with a Soothing Drawl

Alice Smith is a welcome throwback for a mainstream R&B world that often falls back on chirpy jingles and gimmicky ringtones. With a four-octave vocal range and an old-fashioned sense of songcraft, Smith avoids neo-soul cliches, such as reminiscing too much about the glory years of '70s soul — or, even worse, singing about writing a love song instead of simply performing one.

Case in point: "Secrets," a plaintive ballad that's free of trendy contrivances, both structurally and thematically. Still, it doesn't carry the burden of being groundbreaking. Cooing in a soothing drawl, Smith conveys the anxiety of concealing surreptitious emotions, as well as the lethargy that comes with not releasing them. The subtly lazy arrangement only heightens the song's intensity.

It seems like wishful thinking to hope that "Secrets" will find its way onto urban radio playlists: Although the song addresses well-worn R&B fodder — thematically, it's fairly straightforward love-on-the-rocks fare — its abiding song structure, exquisite lyrics and languid pace seem strangely antiquated. Its timeless elegance, however, makes it worthy of any era.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

John Murph
John Murph writes about music and culture and works as a web producer for BETJazz.com. He also contributes regularly to The Washington Post Express, JazzTimes, Down Beat, and JazzWise magazines.