Smokey Mary marks a departure for Harry Connick, Jr., at least as of late. 2009's Your Songs was slated in more of an easy listening, traditional pop vein. 2013's Smokey Mary amps up the funk and explores the sound of New Orleans in a more R&B and gospel fashion. Connick Jr. is no stranger to funk, drifting in that direction throughout his storied career in some facets. He very much keeps the rhythmic intensity high and flowing, managing to incorporate those signature syncopated rhythms into this effort. The results overall are solid, but Smokey Mary is by no means perfect; there are hits and good, but not valedictory cuts.
"Smokey Mary" opens compellingly, featuring an exceptional groove and an instantly noticeable change in sound for a Connick, Jr. album - specifically the use of organ. Regardless of the stylistic shift, things all fall "in the pocket" be it Connick's vocals, his bluesy piano playing, or the horn riffs. "Hurricane" continues in the jazz-funk idiom, using organ and electric guitar freely. While the funk aspect of this cut brings more of an electric element into Connick's music than usual, there is still a superb saxophone solo. Additionally, there is still a healthy array of jazz elements, including angularity of lines and rhythm.
"Cuddina Done It", one of the best songs of the effort, opens with Nawlin's R&B infused piano. The groove continues to be an allure, this time having some oppositional sense about it. The horns possess a bite about them and overall, Connick, Jr. really plays up the use of grooves/riffs. "Wish I Were Him" keeps the funk going soundly, but "S'pposed To Be" truly steals the show. Slated in a southern gospel-jazz style, Connick delivers one of the more surprising cuts of his career, utilizing a gospel choir on the refrain ("...Every road leads back to you / be with you when I'm s'pposed to be..."). Kim Burrell and Tara Alexander and the Frontline Vocal Movement give Connick, Jr. a lift. After listening, one is unsure whether they are listening to a soulful jazz cut or they've been saved and sanctified in church.
Keeping up the gospel vibe, "The Preacher" delivers a slick groove and quick, agile pace. The amalgamation of gospel, jazz, and soul continues capably, even if it doesn't supersede "S'pposed To Be." "The Preacher" features an excellent organ and muted trombone solo. On "Dang You Pretty", Connick Jr. leaves gospel in favor of 70s styled funk intact with horns. The main quibble is that Connick Jr.'s vocals seem to be more mixed within the record than atop it. Regardless, "Dang You Pretty" is a pretty dang good cut.
"Angola (At the Farm)" has a blue-eyed so sound about it. It doesn't trump the best, but it easily above average. Similarly, "Nola Girl" doesn't possess the goods to trump "Cuddina Done It", but keeps things rolling in enjoyable fashion. "Mind On The Matter" keeps the spirt of Nawlins alive and thriving, allowing for Connick's signature syncopation and plenty of space for instrumental solos. Closer "City Beneath the Sea", an ode to Nawlins seems appropriate. At nearly six minutes, its a bit too long.
Overall, Smokey Mary is another solid addition to the Connick, Jr. discography. It provides a change of pace, something that Connick Jr. probably needed after a hiatus sense 2009's Your Songs. That said, the effort seems under promoted and hard to come by in CD form unless you order it or opt for the digital version. An album you shouldn't sleep on, despite not being perfect.