Home Music Patty Smyth: It’s About Time

Patty Smyth: It’s About Time

It’s possible that the last time you heard Patty Smyth’s voice, she was saying “Goodbye.” “Goodbye to You,” that is – one of her then-band Scandal’s biggest hits in the 1980s. After Scandal dissolved after two LPs, Smyth released a few solo albums, but most of her work landed with a whisper. With the rock-solid It’s About Time, Smyth’s first new album of original tunes in 28 years, listeners have an invitation to tune in again.

Freed of ‘80s processing, Smyth’s warm alto has never sounded so good. Supported by Nashville session drummer king Chris McHugh and bass player Jimmie Lee Sloas, both stalwarts of the Christian rock scene, session guitarist Derek Wells, cellist Austin Hoke, acoustic guitar player Ilya Toshinskiy and award-winning keys man Charlie Judge, Smyth clearly benefits from big-label punch behind her release – perhaps to a fault. A lighter hand by producer Dann Huff might have better spotlighted Smyth’s talents. The tracks are so precise and AOR-ready, the vocals so compressed into evenness, that one might miss the payload: there are well-crafted songs and serious vocal gifts here.

Smyth is singing out of a life that includes children and stepchildren, 25 years of marriage to tennis pro John McEnroe, and a highway of experiences under her belt. “Drive,” the opening track and video release, is a powerful anthem for midlife women, lyrically both touching and triumphant. “Come out with me, let’s go back in time, let’s drive/ All of the years in between, just let them fly by/ Under the arc of the sky I won’t let go/ Under the summer trees I loved you so,” Smyth rings out, and by the end of the song hearts, if not feet, are surely dancing.

In the toe-tapping yet sensual rocker “Build a Fire,” Smyth delivers lyrical heat with lines like “My hands must be tattooed all over you by now” and “My red dress slipping, sticking to my skin tonight.” The vocally resonant “Losing Things” (flashes of Mary Chapin Carpenter) is followed by “No One Gets What They Want,” which hearkens back to Rosanne Cash’s classic Interiors. Indeed, much of the album is set in the groove of late ‘80s, early ‘90s folk rock and country rock, but it does so with enough originality and freshness to make the album relevant. (That said, fans of Cash, Carpenter and the Indigo Girls will doubtless find this album speaks to them more directly than to fans of Scandal.)

The final two tracks fleshing out this brief, eight-song LP are covers. Smyth does a re-take on Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train,” a song she’d covered, with a kicky rock feel, on her first solo album. She’s rethought delivery here; it’s slowed down and stripped back, showcasing the songwriting. No bad thing, but it doesn’t meaningfully diverge from an interpretation the aforementioned Carpenter recorded in 1987, and, as such, doesn’t offer much new. Smyth concludes with Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” wrapping her voice smoothly around the song’s classic, dark lines. It’s a capable rendition and Smyth’s pipes are certainly up to the task, but once again, this version doesn’t add or alter much from Gentry’s original.

If the concluding tracks – necessary for a full LP release – aren’t the strongest, there is plenty to appreciate on It’s About Time. Smyth’s rich voice, a roughness on the high notes just catching the emotions, seems undiminished by the years, and she brings an intelligence and wisdom to the songs that is balanced by their catchy rock- and country-pop qualities. More than just listenable, It’s About Time gives us a reason to remember why we loved Scandal and missed the feisty alto behind it.

Summary
Smyth's new album gives us a reason to remember why we loved Scandal and missed the feisty alto behind it.
75 %
Solid, listenable

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