Tuesday, November 28, 2023


The Street Theatre November 26


Reviewed by Cassidy Richens


Fred Smith’s Canberra album launch was an intelligent moving performance, offering a “Look” into the personal side of this award-winning singer songwriter.

Smith’s performance was impeccable. A consummate storyteller weaving together childhood memories and ANU student days, before bringing us into present time through stories of inspirational relationships and significant life events.

Released in November 2023 “Look” is an eclectic assortment of autobiographical observations. With wide-ranging compositions, drawn primarily from folk, bluegrass, and country stylings, it demonstrates Smith’s versatility and award-winning songwriting prowess in catchy choruses, thought provoking ballads and rollicking sing-alongs. His absurd humour pleasingly present.

Backed by Canberra musicians Dave O'Neill (violin, electric guitar, mandolin), Matt Nightingale (double bass), Mitch Preston (drums), Jacquie Bradley (banjo, vocals) and Hayden Kinsmen (piano), the live concert also featured a handpicked selection from his past catalogue.

Fred Smith (centre) and band

“Time Flies,” a compelling composition with a bluegrass Celtic feel, and featuring O’Neill’s unrivalled fiddle playing, provided an upbeat opening. The electric guitar accompaniment and smooth country riffs in “Long Long Way,” working wonderfully with Nightingale’s double bass again highlighting O’Neill’s masterful musicianship. Smith’s quirky self-portrait summoned up lots of laughs. The opening track on “Look” also features a surprising harmonica twist.

Dave O'Neill (left) and Fred Smith

The funky bass line and rockabilly feel of “For Myself” showcased Kinsmen on keys and vocal harmonies from Bradley and Nightingale. I particularly enjoyed Bradley’s vocal harmonies in “She is My Song”. Also, off the album, Smith’s song about his wife cleverly transitioned from verse to chorus; incorporating iconic Canberra people and places, it pulled us back to the 90’s with humorous and touching one-liners, before leaping through life with themes of isolation and regret.

His “Corners of my Mind” COVID ballad performed solo on guitar, a song of introspection penned during six stints of hotel quarantine portrayed Smith’s tender side; also present in the sparse guitar and haunting harmonies of his Leonard Cohen tribute “Lenny.” The “Come and Say Goodnight” waltz that gracefully brought the concert (and album) to a close, a wonderful contribution to the reflective gentle tone of his new album.

O’Neill's brilliant melodies performed with intoxicating punch and elastic elegance, perfectly suited Fred’s storytelling. In a beautiful space with excellent sound production, it really was a special night.


Photos by Shelley Higgs