Edinburgh Fringe audiences may already be familiar with Nicole Cassandra Smit as the frontwoman of the Jazz Bar’s popular Queens of the Blues shows, set to return for a limited run this year. This Indonesian-Swedish singer has been based in Edinburgh for the past decade, gigging with a number of local outfits, including the Blueswater Band, with whom she conceived the Queens show, rockabilly group Cow Cow Boogie and alternative blues rock trio Smitten, as well as performing at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival.
Like many jobbing musicians, Smit was temporarily blindsided by the pandemic lockdown but has emerged on the other side with a fresh musical perspective which finds expression in her own songwriting rather than her interpretation of standards.
“Aside from the general anxiety that it caused, the lockdown offered a welcome pause in my very busy performing life,” she says. “The quiet it brought allowed me to go back to creating and writing in a way that I never had time to do before. It really oiled the writing cogs and opened up many new collaborations that will continue in the future and it inspired me to seriously pursue making an album.”
Those collaborations include writing and recording with Chris Grieve and fellow Scotsman Sessioneer Joseph Malik. Smit sang on Malik’s lauded 2021 album Diverse, Pt.3 and he worked with Smit on the single Strong Woman.
“There was an RnB path there that Joseph, Chris and I thought would be exciting to explore into a full length album,” says Smit, “but there was also a concept in the back of my mind that grew stronger. It was the concept of mixed heritage and how that changes with and affects every generation. I knew there was a wealth of stories and emotions that I could write about just from my own family, especially in the complex relationship between mothers and daughters.”
The end result is Smit’s debut album, Third In Line, a soulful collection in three parts, inspired by three generations of women in her own family. The recent single Sundown concerns her grandmother’s battle with Alzheimer’s, while Wedding Gown, the song she has chosen for her Scotsman Session, also comes from the first part of the album, looking back on the trauma and challenges of previous generations. Smith has filmed an acoustic rendition at the SweetDram distillery in Edinburgh, accompanied by guitarist Toby Mottorshead who also plays on the soon-to-be-released album.
After a necessary pandemic pause, Smit finally gets to perform a new show she has developed for the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival. Traveling Tent Show – appropriately presented in the Piccolo Tent in George Square Gardens – celebrates the music of the 1920s tent shows which helped birth the blues and introduced US audiences to vocal powerhouses such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey.
Nicole Smit performs Traveling Tent Show in the Piccolo Tent, 23 and 24 July, and Queens of the Blues at the Jazz Bar, Edinburgh (various dates). Third In Line is released on 8 July on Liljekonvalj Records