A Savagely good debut: Samantha Savage Smith – Tough Cookie

Western Famine

The first thing you notice is Samantha Savage Smith’s voice. It demands almost instant surrender. Her smooth honeyed croon has the sweetness of Zooey Deschanel and the gravity of Hope Sandoval — a voice so good it wouldn’t matter what she was singing about you’d fall head over heels. But midway through the album opener “Devilman” it’s clear the lyrics are just as strong as the melodies that carry them. That’s part of what makes her debut full-length Tough Cookie so impressive.

The other part is the talented group of Calgary musicians that help realize the potential of these songs. Producer Lorrie Matheson guitarist Brooker Buckingham drummer Chris Dadge bass player Scott Munro and backup vocalist Dan Vacon offer a near-perfect foil for Smith’s voice. Whether they are dressing up a torch song (“Keep it in a Box”) revisiting ’50s pop (“The Score”) or exploring the dreamier side of singer-songwriter balladry (“What I’ve Tasted”) you can hear her influence reflected back through their playing and vice versa. Tough Cookie is an alarmingly cohesive confluence of talent that still manages to offer remarkable variety. From the epic minor-key Crazy Horse vibe of “Nobody Loves Me But My Own Kind” to the haunting lilt of album closer “You Always Come to Mind” every element is exactly where it should be. The only thing better than the first spin through this album is how it grows on you with each successive play.


Fast Forward Weekly: Some of these songs have been floating around online for a few months now. What does it mean to finally have a proper record?

Samantha Savage Smith: It just feels like it’s done now — it’s ready to go and it’s nice to have something to show for the last year of work. You are like “Here you go guys have a listen.” It’s been stressful and it’s been pretty exciting. The whole time I think me and Lorrie just kind of had our heads down pushing away so the fact that the CD release is… Friday is kind of like “whoa.” It’s kind of crawled up on me.

What part of making this record surprised you the most?

The positive feedback.

So you have a self-esteem issue then?

Oh yeah but doesn’t everyone? It’s just that this is the first time I’ve ever really put any of my music out there and I was never sure how people would take it or how I would be perceived. I’m excited to hear that people do like it. It’s a nice thing.

How did you find working with the other players on your album?

I loved it. They got it. They understood the feel… and I think the best part was that they were all excited about doing it because they are all studio musicians. We’d do a couple of things but most of the time we just trusted the first thing that Brooker decided. We didn’t really labour over anything for too long. We just tried to keep it organic and spur of the moment for most of the songs.

Who else would you like to collaborate with?

Last folk fest I got to play with Timbre Timbre and that dude is so awesome. That would be a guy I’d like to work with in the future.

What makes you a tough cookie?

I had a big brother — 6-4. He beat up on me a lot. It’s a way to toughen up.

Samantha Savage Smith celebrates her CD release Friday 4 22 at the Palomino.