Jo Harman and Company, and Malaya Blue at Norwich Arts Centre, 20th September 2014
I’d heard many good reports about Jo Harman, and this was my first time hearing her live, and another opportunity to see local talent Malaya Blue in the guest slot, playing with her full and excellent band including much of Little Red plus Mark ‘Boweevil’, all of whom were in fine, tight form accompanying Malaya’s bluesy and soulful voice. A hushed and attentive Arts Centre audience loved it, applause ringing louder after every song. There is rich potential here, it’s amazing they have only played as a unit a few times, Malaya has chosen her band well. She already has a well-received and very good debut album entitled Bourbon Street.
Malaya Blue has been a singer-songwriter for most of her life and the music that she produces reflects her experiences. Passionate, articulate and sensual, her soulful voice delivers the emotion of the lyrics with great feeling and sensitivity.
Malaya started her musical journey as a child singing gospel music in the church choir. Since then she’s gone from strength to strength, working as a top session vocalist and featuring on a number of releases through labels such as Ministry Of Sound, Universal, Hed Kandi, Pure Funk, 989 Records and Konami. In 2011, she guested on blues-rock guitarist Mick Simpson’s album, ‘Cruel World’, singing lead vocals on the track, ‘Find Another You’. This was followed by a featured vocalist spot on the 2013 single release, ‘Lady Sings The Blues’ by Mockingbird Hill, this track was a huge success, hitting number 1 in the German pop jazz radio chart, beating the likes of Katie Melua and Jamie Cullum.
Malaya is back with her stunning new solo album titled ‘Bourbon Street’, a soulful mix of blues, jazz, and classic retro style pop. The album draws on a wide range of styles and influences, tracks include the sultry jazzy blues opener, ‘Bourbon Street’, the 1960’s, Phil Spector inspired, ‘Bitter Moon’, the gospel-tinged ‘Cold Light of Day’, and the soft acoustic jazz-pop ballad, ‘Promised Land’. There’s also a new stripped back version of ‘Lady Sings the Blues’, and an extended album mix of ‘Forgiveness’, featuring the talents of Mick Simpson on lead guitar. The Bourbon Street album see’s Malaya team up once again with producer Andy Littlewood (Mockingbird Hill), and features some top guest musician’s including Giovanni Bruno, Carleton Van Selman, Dave Hunt, and Dario Salvi.
Jo was playing with a full band too and delighted the audience with a set of close to a couple of hours. Standing on the tallest pair of shoes I think I have seen she held the crowd rivetted and sang beautifully. My friend Steve Yourglivch wrote this excellent review of her performance. My thanks to Steve, of Blues Matters who has kindly allowed me to include it here.
JO HARMAN & COMPANY
NORWICH ARTS CENTRE
20th SEPTEMBER 2014
I’ve been following Jo’s steady emergence as a real force on the UK music scene for the last couple of years. From watching the early DVD and listening to the live ‘At The Hideaway’ recordings it was crystal clear that this young lady was blessed with true talent and star quality. I watched as she tackled each new challenge with aplomb, festivals, huge
European support slots until the time was right to record and release the sublime ‘Dirt On My Tongue’ masterpiece. Choc full of songs of real and at times raw emotion the albums integrity shines like a beacon.
Then came the Royal Albert Hall performances and accompanying BBC produced album. Throughout that time I’ve been lucky enough to witness Jo and her fluid but never less than stunning Company band on several occasions in different types of location and line up. Acoustic duo and trio, with Steinway piano, and in full rock chick mode blowing the roof off Jacs Bar in Skegness filled with alcohol fuelled headbangers in the early hours. Never less than genius.
The point of this long winded preamble is….Jo just got better. As I re-run the set through my mind it was different, as Jo’s shows always are, but with something new, a funkier cool soulness inhabiting the core of the show. Considering that drummer Graham Cuttill was making his first ever appearance and young guitarist Max O’Donnell has only played a handful of times before the impressiveness of the performance is magnified even more.
Jo strides onto centre stage and takes total control from the off. The opening triumvirate of ‘I Shall Not Be Moved’, ‘Heartstring’ and ‘ My Amnesty’ is mind blowing in its quality, the audience are spellbound and move closer to the stage when instructed without hesitation or resistance. ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart of the City’ raises the tempo and gets heads bopping along before Jo introduces ‘Cloudy’ written by AWB’s Hamish Stuart. What a lovely understated version this is, the aforementioned Max O’Donnell excelling on guitar.
Stevie Watts keys have plenty of opportunity to shine throughout the set and he never disappoints. Andy Tolman on bass holds everything down wonderfully, coaxing Graham and Max through any teething problems they might feel. A wonderfully soulful ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ reminded me most of Albert King’s version. ‘Cold Heart’ is always a highlight for me, as are closers ‘Sideways’ and ‘Underneath The River’. The crowd demand more and the band duly oblige encoring with The Isley Brothers ‘ Work To Do’. First time I’ve seen Jo perform this and what a treat.
The NAC is a lovely venue, not too small but intimate with super acoustics and a quality sound system. The band looked like they had fun, I know the audience did so hopefully we can get it together again soon.
Words and photos (c) all rights reserved Richard Shashamane 2014. Photos not to be used without permission
Quoted review is by Steve Yourglivch of Blues Matters magazine.