Jazz Reviews : O. C. Smith Leads the Congregation in R

O. C. Smith, the singer who worked the Alleycat Bistro this weekend, proved during his opening set Friday night that while you can take the man out of the church, you can't take the church out of the man.

Smith, who leads a Science of Mind congregation when he's not preaching the gospel of pop-jazz, gave a performance that could best be characterized as uplifting. Though proselytizing was not part of his act, he nonetheless managed to turn songs like "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and "Roll 'em Pete Blues" into inspirational messages.

Accompanied by pianist John Beasley and the Sunday Morning Band, Smith stuck closely to an R&B; format during his opening set. Even a couple of country tunes, and his one foray into swing time, "I'm Glad I Fell in Love With You," came out attractively funky.

The personable Smith, whose between-song patter consisted mainly of polling the audience for Baptists, displayed a bell-clear voice that was perfect on each tune. Though his bravado has widened over the years, his range has not diminished and his interpretations were well-suited to the material.

Smith's strongest suits were the blues, of which he performed two selections, in the ballad form. "If the World Should End Tomorrow" was a beautiful, inspired ballad that best showed his range of emotion and vocal technique. "Send Me Someone to Love," a favorite of many a blues artist, was perfect in its execution.

Pianist Beasley showed himself to be a fine accompanist throughout the set and percussionist Buck Clarke, who sat in for the first set, added some tasty conga licks to the proceedings.

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