The way Carlton Jumel Smith sees it, he’s filling a bit of a void with his first label album, 1634 Lexington Avenue — whose track “Woman You Made Me” is premiering exclusively below.
“I’m a soul singer, so whatever I sing is gonna be soulful,” says the veteran singer, whose album is coming out May 10 as a joint venture between Finland’s Timmion Records and Brooklyn’s Dap-Tone imprint. “We no longer have Charles Bradley or Sharon Jones, God bless ’em. Lee Fields is great, but I’m more than happy to fill that ‘soul man’ bill. That’s what I’m about.”
Smith has made singing his mission since he was eight years old, when he saw James Brown perform at the Apollo Theater. Like Bradley, Jones and Fields he performed in clubs and released independent recordings, earning a reputation that’s landed him gigs around the world. He landed the Timmion deal during a three-month residency in Finland, hooking up with the production team Cold Diamond & Mink, writing songs to instrumental tracks it created.
“Woman You Made Me” was actually a title suggestion from one of the Timmion executives, according to Smith. “I thought that was a weird turn of phrase; We don’t really speak like that,” he notes. “But since I liked it I said, ‘I got to find something to do with it,’ and after (Cold Diamond & Mink) sent me a track the words just kind of flew from there.” Smith calls the song “my salute to women,” some of it based on his late father’s love letters to his mother.
Smith says releasing 1634 Lexington Avenue — the address of his home growing up in Harlem — via Dap-Tone is a match made in heaven, though he laughs recalling that the label actually turned him down some years ago. With the album coming out Smith’s goal is to obtain management and start touring in a more organized fashion.
“I want to get on stage so bad,” says Smith, who’s also in the process of writing “a couple” books. “I love performing. I was happiest in China, doing three shows a night, six nights a week. That gave my day focus. So I’m hoping once the album’s out I’ll get somebody to steer the ship and get a chance to work even harder.”