The best I’ve seen in person, no question
To set the stage, I’ll tell you about a time I was setting a stage. Last summer I worked for the Strathspey Performance Arts Centre in Mabou, Cape Breton. As part of an artist showcase series, we tried something a little unconventional. Chairs were set up on the stage to face the empty auditorium. A platform was center-stage, the artists would play to a cap of around 50. Performances were intimate, comfortable, and warm.
But stuck in the middle of our weekly strummy-strummy singer-songwriter bill was Reeny Smith. She was billed as a “soul-inspired powerhouse” hardly at home in the heart of fiddle country. And so now it’s show night, stage is set. As I’m setting up the side bar, I notice a keyboard flanked by two stools that weren’t there when I’d put out the chairs.
“Is that hers?”
His head usually in his board, the sound guy looked up.
“Yeah, we just finished sound check. You just wait, man. Just wait ‘til you hear her.”
“Yeah, it’s her and two of her cousins. Incredible.”
Explains the stools, then. I didn’t think too much about the words. After all, our sound guy was always complimentary – great guy. But he’d always been able to explain why. All I was getting now was a “just wait?” Something’s up.
It’s a tiny crowd tonight. Maybe the aging Inverness County demographic didn’t vibe with “Pretty Girl Swag.” I say vibe, I mean get. Showtime, lights go low, Reeny Smith enters with two other young women. A few gracious hellos, a silent pause.
I lost track of time, I lost track of how many times I shook my head. I kept glancing at the sound guy, he kept giving me that tight-lipped and raised-eyebrow’d “I told you so” look. Her performance was minimalist, a single keyboard with three voices still shook every little auditorium crack. Stripped-down isn’t the word, there was nothing bare. Her sound was raw, huge, and incredible.
Towards the end they broke into some gospel standards. My mother would’ve died and gone to heaven. And quietly as she came in, she thanked the audience and walked out.
Since then I’ve looked up her Spotify. 2018’s WWIII: Strength Courage Love is almost unrecognizable from what I’d heard on the stage. But don’t think for a second her studio material is anything lesser. Whitney Houston’s Whitney is a perfect pop record and it’s the first record that came to mind when I heard WWIII.
Sonically, Reeny Smith does draw from a quite a few influences in pop, R&B, and soul. But I mention Whitney because it gives me the same sensation that this is huge, this is extraordinary.
She’s already received three African Nova Scotian Music Awards. If I’m to sell you on a single song, it’ll be easy to point at her singles. “Survive” has a mammoth chorus that’d tap Sam Smith out – it’s the single of singles. “Good Girl Swag” is a party, undeniable. But I’ve just got one, right? “I Get You Now” is perfect, the only word. Her post-chorus break has been stuck in my head for months. I’ll quietly hum it in The Tall and Small to myself, you’ll probably do the same wherever you are.
For all this talk, you’d almost forget she’s so close to home. Imagine that, eh? We have a genuinely world-class talent living two and a half hours from campus (give or take). You’ll want to know her name, you’re about to see it everywhere.