New Zealander Hollie Smith made her studio debut as a 16-year-old with 1999's Light from a Distant Shore, a Celtic music record, before going on to become one of the country's leading neo-soul vocalists. Having won Best Female Vocalist at New Zealand's National Jazz Festival in 1998, Smith had already caught the attention of her countrymen, and the existing buzz made the independently released Distant Shore a modest yet significant success. Several years later, she shifted directions by joining New Zealand's premier R&B, reggae, and neo-soul group Trinity Roots. After recording 2004's Home, Land and Sea with the group, Smith got her first taste of the road as the band performed throughout the region.
The following year, Smith was able to record her own compositions for the first time, alongside unique arrangements of cover material. Hollie Smith EP not only scored her a national Top Ten hit with her rendition of Don McGlashan's "Bathe in the River," but earned her the clout and credibility to negotiate a deal with EMI for the release of her major-label debut. Long Player featured songs from her own pen (written over the course of four years), some of NZ's finest musicians, and a soul/jazz sound so steamy and sensuous that Smith's name dominated national media for weeks following the album's May 2007 release date. When the record fell into Blue Note Records president Bruce Lundvall's hands, he and subsidiary label Manhattan Records agreed to bring her on board. ~ Evan C. Gutierrez