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Her sound is not so much straight-ahead jazz,” Ashleigh Smith claims. “It’s very R&B and funk-infused..”
Raised in a nurturing, musically enriched household with her two sisters in LaGrange, Georgia, Smith seemed destined to become a musician. Her mother, Deborah Smith sang constantly, while her father, Edwin Smith, is a pianist and former school band director. Smith also had a grandfather who played jazz saxophone; a grandmother who played classical piano and sang; and an uncle who played jazz trumpet. At the tender age of four, Smith began singing along the records that her father played.
Smith also absorbed the sounds of Stevie Wonder, Prince, Bill Withers, and Sting during her early years. Those touchstones and several others echo on her August 26, 2016, Concord debut, Sunkissed, produced by Chris Dunn and Nigel Rivers. “I listen to a lot of new stuff but I really dig a lot of old stuff,” she says. “I wanted that side of me to be a part of the album. I believe in that older R&B and pop music and the time when real instruments were used. ” In choosing which covers to include on Sunkissed, she was mindful of exploring fresher terrain. That explains her winning renditions of Hall & Oats’ 1975 classic, “Sara Smile” and Chrisette Michele’s 2007 soul ballad, “Love Is You.” Other none originals include an R&B-inflected makeover of the Beatles’ 1968 gem, “Blackbird,” and mesmerizing a capella version of “Pure Imagination,” which features Smith harmonizing with herself via various overdubs. Those covers are juxtaposed with enticing originals, many of which Smith co-wrote with bassist Nigel Rivers or guitarist Joel Cross.