Album Reviews

Jo Harman

Artist:     Jo Harman

Album:     People We Become

Label:     Pledge Music

Release Date:     02/10/2017

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Maybe we’re a little late to the party on rising British soul sensation Jo Harman who has just released her sophomore album. Yes, when I see a high profile guest artist like Michael McDonald, I think that perhaps her sound might be a bit slick not only for this writer’s tastes but for most of our readers as well. However, the stopping power of her wondrous, emotive, purely pitched voice is attention-getting to say the least. She is being pitched as a soul and even as a blues singer in some corners, as she leaves the label of a pop singer behind, though much of the pop feel remains. Perhaps we should think of this as a transitional record. After all, Harman did win Female Vocalist of the Year in the 2014 British Blues Awards.

Harman is still finding her footing, having released her debut album, 2013’s Dirt on My Tongue, fresh out of music school at the behest of a Grammy-winning producer. Although there was blues and gospel material on that album, she’s been increasingly gravitating toward these sounds. She’s actually deeper into gospel than one might expect. Harman says, “I’m a huge fan of Kim Burrell, the Clarke Sisters, as well as those old school Memphis singers, like Candi Staton and Ann Peebles, and, when it comes to vocal arrangements, I’m always layering my voice up like it’s a gospel choir. I just love that sound.” Note, she references layering her voice and often she provides her own background vocals, while at other times she does have other singers.

She recorded this one in Nashville with producer Fred Mollin (Billy Joel, Joe Cocker, Carly Simon) and has Michael McDonald aboard for the single, “When We Were Young.” Mollin recruited some high profile players such as guitarists Pat Buchanan and Bryan Sutton, as well as drummer Greg Morrow. The album was recorded over a three-week period when winter storms wracked Nashville; conditions that made the group strive even harder to produce a warm, balanced sound to frame her remarkable voice, which she herself describes as, “ I have a signature voice, with quite a trademark vibrato, so whatever I sing it sounds like me! I’ve learned, however, to be more versatile though, through doing sessions and singing other material as a guest vocalist, which I quite enjoy, albeit as a sideline. I’ve done jazz, I’ve done pop, I can belt and I can sing in half voice, I can pull a lot of things out of the box if I need to. But overall and at its most natural, people tell me I have a classic old school soul/blues voice which is handy, by and large, that’s really all I’ve ever wanted to sound like!”

Sometimes a voice is just so damn both powerful and alluring, that it rises above the material. Such is the case with Harman. You remember the voice, not necessarily associating it with a particular tune. That said, these are the ones to check out first: the piano-driven epic ballad, “Lend Me Your Love” and the spare “Person of Interest,” where she’s accompanied just by acoustic and electric guitar, and the similarly styled “Turned the Final Page.” The up-tempo tunes such as “When We Were Young” also showcase her brilliantly wailing voice but the production seems just a bit too smooth.

Harman’s U.S. debut will be at Joe’s Pub on March 28. NYC folks – Be there!

—Jim Hynes

 

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  1. Keep playing the album. Yes, she is an exceptional vocalist, of course, but her songwriting us VERY strong – more is revealed with every listen, and with many a great record, the depth and quality comes from repeated listening. A number of influential critics are comparing her to a latter-day Carole King and Joni Mitchell…their words, not mine but, like I say, she can really write.