Hollie Smith – Coming In From The Dark: Album Review

Hollie Smith ’s distinctive powerful voice lays out an intensely emotional ride of an album. Themes of loss, grief and death but you can climb on board this Gospel train and sense salvation. There is some of the Spirit in the Dark of Aretha. A little choke and sob of Gladys Knight. The soaring songbird of Minnie Riperton. Whatever she takes she makes her own and this is generally a stunning tour-de-force from start to finish.

Title track and opening song Coming in From the Dark starts slow and deliberate with a stark piano. Cool and detached at first but it doesn’t take long for the heat and the passion to well up. Soulful and intense with her voice just choking a little to contain composure. You keep telling me we should just move on/ But you want something more/ So am I what you want? / You can’t run from the past you can’t erase/ So I’m coming in from the dark.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is on board for this and two others. Mixed down in general to become unobtrusive and generally add colour to the background atmosphere.

Maybe Hollie is a fan of Minnie Riperton. On Tell Me, the keyboards and bass come on like the Stevie Wonderlove Motown Jazz Funk of the Seventies. I could be all your flowers in spring/ I could change the seasons to reap just what you sow. Seductive and encircling and there is a supportive chorus of Sisters.

Something Good starts with a Gospel piano and in a flash becomes a testifying emotional stand-out of a song. Some swirling keyboards in the style of Billy Preston and the whole production here seems to arise from the classic Muscle Shoals sound of the late Sixties. Southern Gospel Soul.

When Hollie played some of these songs solo in small venues last year, the voice was thrilling and captivating. This one was introduced as a tribute and encouragement to a young boy, possibly a nephew. I believe in something good for you.

Hollie Smith


What About is the recent single and includes Hamilton based Rapper Raiza Biza. A lub-duff heartbeat rhythm leads the tune. Rap poet vocals add a counter-rhythm. Standing in the rain for you/ Did I change for you. Not an entirely convincing blend of Smith’s dynamic instrument with the young African-Kiwi artist.

Beside Me is where her voice soars and flies off into the upper register. Mad, possessive love and slightly deranged. I feel I don’t fucking fit/ I watch you walk away/ I can’t force you to stay. Teeks adds some close harmony singing to double down on the intensity. A female version of the Soul Blues of Robert Johnson when he aims for the crazy love of If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day.

Billy is a death song. The story behind it was outlined on stage. To a friend who lost a young son and then lost his own battle with illness. Does it feel like home? Sounds like a blessing now, on record.

Lay Me Down to Sleep and she sings of the pennies on my eyes. The Symphony Orchestra surrounds this one and elevates it with strings and deep drum thunder before the clouds pass.

You and these themes continue to the finale. Dream drops like rocks in a wishing-well/ I don’t want to lie/ I just want to lie down. The Orchestra is joined by Sol3 Mio to add texture.

Hollie Smith in full flight is a powerful Soul artist. The production on this new album adds a little bit of essential polish. The themes of love, death and despair are eternal themes and the best Art transmutes and helps to transcend.

Rev Orange Peel