“Sometimes you hear a voice that leaves you speechless,” said Huey Morgan of the Fun Loving Criminals recently. He’s right of course. The voice is that of Jo Harman, English born but channelling Memphis, Detroit and Nashville in her genre busting, but soulful, latest album, People We Become. We were very taken with her 2013 album, Dirt On My Tongue and commented back then, “Her star is in the ascendant, built on determined hard work, impressive song-writing skills, a terrific backing band and – most of all, that voice. Sweet, sultry, powerful, bluesy, soulful – Jo Harman’s got it all.”
If anyone were to doubt that, this new release proves it – in spades. This builds on the quality and promise of the previous album, but more than that, it is an artist at the very top of her game, going deep emotionally, lyrically and musically. The ten songs, all originals, will, in turns, touch you, stir you, make you hopeful – and are, above all, hugely enjoyable. The album as a whole has all the hallmarks of a classic, harking back to an earlier age when albums were important and not just downloads to be consumed. Other reviewers have made comparisons of Jo Harman with Carole King and Joni Mitchell. That’s not hyperbole – there is something very special here, with a formidable musical talent in terms of song writing, singing and performance.
The album was recorded in Nashville with renown producer Fred Mollin, and features a host of talented musicians. It starts intriguingly, with Harman singing faintly as from an old phonograph, before the drums and guitar begin throbbing as a prelude to the song, No One Left to Blame, proper. The tension builds up before breaking again in the soaring, melodious chorus – “I’m never gonna give you up.” By the end of the song you’re singing along. The next track, Silhouettes of You, is musically quite intricate and very beautiful, and you are reminded along the way of Janis Ian. Lend Me Your Love clocks in at over seven minutes, but Harman’s voice over the simple piano chords at the beginning which build to include guitars, horns and harmony vocals, along with the sophistication of the musical composition, easily carries you through. We’re in Susan Tedeschi territory here, with bluesy, soulful textures.
On Unchanged and Alone, Harman sings sweetly over a lightly strummed guitar, the song again building in instrumentation and emotion, with the vocals rising in intensity. Reformation shows Harman just as at home in a guitar and drums driven rocker, while in Changing of the Guard she gives us a timeless classic, a song you feel you knew and loved in your youth, but which stands the test of time. Person of Interest is a sparse, jazzy
affair, just the expressive vocals and guitar, while When We Were Young, a duet with Michael McDonald from the Doobie Brothers, with its Motown overtones, is the nearest we get to pop on the album. It’s a terrific song, it’ll have you moving whatever bit of you you like to move, before it morphs into the bluesy piano and vocals just towards its conclusion. Some delightful solo guitar takes us into The Final Page, full of heartache and yearning, before the final song, Lonely Like Me, with its lovely gospel harmonies and bitter sweet tone, rounds things off.
All these songs are sophisticated musically, yet utterly engaging – that’s why People We Become, though immediately enjoyable, continues to reward subsequent plays; and why you’ll still be listening to it years from now. It is elegantly crafted, full of depth with authentic, real music, and mature and quite compelling singing.
First published at Down at the Crossroads.