Personnel: Ashleigh Smith (vocals); Joel Cross (guitar); Shelton Summons (piano, Fender Rhodes piano); Nigel Rivers (electric bass).
Audio Mixer: Seth Presant.
Recording information: January Sound Studio.
Photographer: Dennis Webb.
Ashleigh Smith's full-length debut album, 2016's Sunkissed, is a languid, sophisticated combination of jazz and R&B that beautifully exhibits Smith's warmly resonant vocals. A graduate of the University of North Texas and winner of the 2014 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, Smith is a gifted singer with a burnished, romantic vocal style. While contemporary in tone, Smith is clearly as adept at delivering a jazz standard as she is a more modern pop tune. Produced by Chris Dunn and Nigel Rivers (who also handles most of the arranging), Sunkissed features a mix of originals and well-chosen pop covers reworked here with a nuanced and expansive soul-jazz style. Cuts like Hall & Oates' "Sara Smile" and the Beatles' "Blackbird" are transformed by Smith and her bandmates into flowing, harmonically rich grooves that touch upon the passionate R&B of Alicia Keys, the '70s soul of Stevie Wonder, and the forward-thinking jazz of Esperanza Spalding. Interestingly, Smith doesn't lock herself into the past -- she delivers an inspired, orchestral soul reading of former boss (whom she sang backup for) Chrisette Michele's "Love Is You." Similarly, Smith's originals, including the Latin-tinged "Best Friends" and the horn-driven "Into the Blue," are highlights that display her broad stylistic range. While Smith certainly has chops to spare as evidenced by her multi-tracked vocal harmonies on the classic standard "Pure Imagination," she generally sings in an understated, supple style that makes for a relaxing and intimate listening experience. In the end, it's Smith's relaxed warmth on Sunkissed that leaves you feeling good. ~ Matt Collar