From the sweet scatted intro of Hollie Smith’s voice on the opening title track to the end of the album, ‘Water Or Gold’ takes us on a big emotional journey. The big band sound grooving with big emphatic hooks and stylistic time changes reminds me of ’70s soul, mixed with Aotearoa goodness. Holding On in particular had me nodding my head and singing along. The album slows down in the middle with Anymore, Smith pushing her vocals as the song crescendos and resolves. Poor On Poor has a political edge with commentary about rich getting richer, helped along by a slow driving funky beat and purposeful vocals. Lead The Way brings some hard blues style with Jol Mulholland’s dirty guitar riff, Darren Mathiassen’s simplistic four on the floor bass drum and Marika Hodgson a bass riff that opens up into a dirty jam. The placement of Helena after that is perfect as Smith cradles us on a journey about her close friend who very publicly died of breast cancer during the album’s development. Confident, almost exultant production lifts this undoubtedly emotional track well above being maudlin to surprisingly be an album highlight.
This album seems more personal than her previous, with life and death evident inspirations. Recording of the 11 tracks was apparently quite rushed, ahead of the scheduled mixing in New York by ex-pat Kiwi Aaron Nevezie, but that certainly isn’t apparent. Crossing the floor from soul to jazz to blues and back again, ‘Water Or Gold’ consistently shows itself the latter.