J. Penzak: June 11, 2011: TERRASCOPE ON LINE U.K.: REVIEW:
It was almost exactly four years ago that we had the pleasure of interviewing Orriel Smith on the heels of her appearance on the Fuzzy-Felt Folk compilation. In the intervening years, Ms. Smith has released several albums of “Cluckoratora”, wherein she clucks famous arias from the likes of Mozart, Verdi, and Puccini. However, her heart has always been close to the folk songs she sang on her debut album, A Voice In The Wind released by Columbia nearly 50 years ago. At the end of our interview, she expressed a hope that one day she would return to those types of songs and this similarly-titled release is the long-awaited result. As she says in her liner notes, she has “always kept a special fondness for the poignant melodies and diverse characters in folk music.”
Accompanying herself on guitar and with sparse orchestral arrangements performed by Don French, Smith delivers an impassioned collection of traditional folk songs from Ireland, Britain, America, Mexico, Russia, and Aotearoa/New Zealand. The backing ranges from a softly intertwined guitar and orchestra on opener, ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ to her gently plucked acoustic guitar on ‘Lady Mary’ and ‘Songs My Mother Taught Me’, to the a capella marvel, ‘Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies’ that finds her in as fresh and fine a voice as those early recordings.
Throughout, her crystalline voice tickles the heavens, occasionally operatic, but never less than emotionally enthralling. Think back to that voice wafting from the radio towards the end of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and you’ll get an idea of the immaculate purity and emotion in Smith’s vocal pyrotechnics. ‘Danny Boy’ is as heart wrenching as any version you’ll ever hear, and her other tales of death, forbidden love, and lost virginity snuggle warmly up alongside songs of faith and devotion, including the a capella ‘Were You There When They Crucified My Lord’ / ‘Amazing Grace’ medley that’ll bring tears to the eyes of angels. Record companies don’t release albums like this any more, which may explain why Ms. Smith has elected to release it herself. You can find it at the link above. It’s one of the summer’s earliest treats.
I’ve been asked how “A Voice Forever In The Wind” came about. In 1963 I recorded an LP of Classical Folk Songs called “A Voice In The Wind” with Columbia Records in NYC. Since then, I’ve sung and recorded many different styles of music, and in the last few years have had an enormous amount of fun doing my novelty Operatic Chicken CDs. All along, it’s been very flattering to continually receive emails from admirers of my original folk LP. One that I received was from Mike Sheppard in New Zealand. He is still a great fan of “A Voice in the Wind” and was wondering if I planned to do any more folk recordings. I sent him a copy of my Operatic Chicken arias: “The World’s Favorite CluckOratura Arias”. After he recovered from the shock, he began a campaign of his own for me to do a “book end” CD of the original LP as I sing now. He also started www.myspace/orrielsmithsociety in honor of “A Voice in the Wind”. After meowing and clucking my way through my second novelty CD of Cat and Chicken duets: (“Live From CarnEGGy Hall”), my new New Zealand friend hadn’t lost hope! I started going through my collection of folk/art songs that I loved singing with the guitar and never recorded. As I remembered some of my favorites, the songs and characters began haunting me to the point that I felt I had to record them. I’ve always felt that the folk songs “sing me” rather than the other way around so each song has it’s own voice and I feel I become the character singing. I feel very much at home in a recording studio, so it was an inspirational experience making arrangements and recording songs I hadn’t really thought about for a long time. Like meeting old friends, I hope this “Forever” CD will remind folk song fans of some of their favorites, and that new listeners will enjoy being introduced to my “take” on these choices.
Bio:I was surrounded with singing from the moment I was born, as my Mother was a dramatic Coloratura. I began singing very early imitating the coloratura arias that I was hearing. In Washington D.C., where I was born, John’s Hopkins University had developed experimental schools for young children which emphasized creativity, and I was admitted at an early age. Soon I was singing Lakme’s “The Bell Song” at the end of my mother’s concerts.
We moved to Hollywood, CA where my mother worked at Paramount Studios and I attended Hollywood Professional School. As a young teen, I continued singing as guest artist in city concerts, the Hollywood Bowl and special occasion musicales. I also began acting on television, Divorce Court, Alfred Hitchcock, and had a co-starring role in “The Mark of Distinction” starring London the Wonder Dog.
During one summer I attended Arrowbear Music Camp in the San Bernardino Mountains as a violinist in the High School orchestra. Jean Ritchie was the guest artist one show night and I was fascinated with the haunting melodies of her Appalachian folk songs with guitar. I became obsessed with the idea of having portable accompaniment and soon was carrying my new guitar everywhere with me. I decided to learn to play by playing Joan Baez and Lynn Gold albums on a slowest 16 RPM speed. Then I would tune the guitar down to that pitch to get down every note. Tedious process! But it worked pretty well.
At eighteen, I was invited to go to NYC to study singing with Roberta Peter’s teacher, William Herman. I would take my operatic lessons during the day, and explore the folk clubs in Greenwich Village at night. I soon discovered Gerde’s Folk City where Jose Feliciano, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan performed. I also began singing there as a regular paid performer. My mother came for a visit and as usual we were doing our vocal exercises playing “who can go the highest”in our hotel room. A theatrical manager who happened to be staying on the same floor knocked on our door, gave us his card and suggested we look him up at his office. We did and while we were there he called the Johnny Carson show saying he had a “voice higher than Yma Sumac” in the office with him. The next day I was singing “The Russian Nightingale” on the show to a standing ovation. The appearance was noticed by Columbia Records NYC and I was signed to Bobby Scott (“A Taste of Honey”) as producer. He was delighted that I liked to sing Irish and English folk songs since that kind of music was his great interest. We quickly put together a guitar/voice album “A Voice in the Wind” (19630 arranged by Walter Raim, guitarist and I began touring doing promotional concerts and televised “Hootenannys” throughout the U.S. and was opener for Dick Gregory at The Hungry Eye in San Francisco. When I returned to Los Angeles to keep trying to finish my degree at UCLA, I joined the Jimmy Joyce Singers who were about to become the musical mainstay for The Smother’s Brother’s Show, The Red Skelton Show and many television specials.
After several years with The Jimmy Joyce Singers, I went on the road alone with guitar. I fell in love with Seattle while singing at the Washington Plaza Hotel and moved there to work at The Van Ackeren Film Production Co. I’d always been interested in learning the “behind the camera” workings of a studio and was able to apprentice as a film and music editor as well as creating music and performing for commercials. Around this time I wrote my country song “Lifetime Woman” which was recorded by David Frizzell.
Several years later, I returned to Los Angeles to spend six years singing and on tour with the Ray Conniff Singers overseas Japan Tour, Charo in Las Vegas and Dolly Parton. Eventually I moved to Irvine, California where I FINALLY finished my UCLA/UCI Psychology degree.
For the past 20 years I’ve been teaching presentation skills for many companies including educational, the Universities of California, and government and as a consultant. I’m further and forever training my voice with Jill Goodsell of Yorba Linda, CA.