Britain’s ‘The Blues’ magazine has already predicted greatness for Devon born Jo Harman so I can’t claim her as my own ‘discovery’ for 2014.
I can tell you if I think ‘Dirt on my Tongue’ is the start of something special though – and I rather think it is…
As with all ‘overnight success’ stories, there’s a fair bit of legwork involved in Jo’s success. She’s already done supporting slots in advance of The Cranberries, Don Mclean and even Johnny Winter, the mixture of which gives a clue to the versatility of her music. 2013 also saw Jo Harman play in front of 300.000 people at Europe’s biggest Free Open-Air concert in Holland ‘Parkpop’. All of which was secured on the basis of the disc I now hold in my hand. High time I put it in the player and heard what all the fuss was about.
The beginning of ‘I Shall not be Moved’ has the rushing air sound of an underground train. Arriving or leaving? the start or end of a journey? and then a plaintive piano is followed by a plaintive voice and inside of 30 seconds Jo Harman has won me over. “I shall not be moved…” a resolute statement of intent from Miss Harman. She clearly intends to do what she herself wants to do, and if that means more releases like ‘Dirt on my Tongue’ then ‘Yippee! I’m all for it. My fear is only that this disc started out being sold directly from Jo’s own website alone and has now finished in the business hands of V2 records (Adele, Mumford & Sons).
The minor keys and major heartache continue into track two’s ‘Worthy of Love’ which finds our heroine “Drifting in loves lonely eyes”. The lyrics are as finely delicate as the whispery vocals, and just like the vocals they are prone to abruptly soar and hit a bullseye, in the heart:
“If I disappear in the night you’ll find me. Where I laid my love on the line”
On ‘(This is my) Amnesty’ the soft piano is replaced by the soft glissando of a bottleneck slide as the song almost, but not quite, slips into Country & Western territory, walking that fine pop/rock/country line the way Linda Ronstadt did on her early releases. It leads nicely into the unashamed handclap pop of ‘Heartstring’. It’s a confident bit of powerpop, as is ‘I don’t live here Anymore’. A song about moving on – that subway train rush that greeted the discs start maybe? A bruised voice guaranteed to find a place in hearts and charts if there’s any justice whatsoever in this world.
If I’m still not absolutely certain that this disc is a bit special then the next track up is a clincher. Relating to the death of her father ‘Sweet Man Moses’ had me looking for the writing credits fully expecting to see words like ‘traditional’ but instead finding ‘J. Harman‘. How old is this girl? deep inside I mean.
So okay, this is a rather special disc but it was recommended by ‘Blues Magazine’. Hearts have been on the line but never in bars, and particularly never in 12 bars. ‘Underneath the River’ puts the deficit to rights with a rough and ready riff that reminds me very much of Sam Fish – and Sam is someone I rate very highly indeed so take that as a big compliment – not just to Harman but also to guitarist Mike Davies who I suspect is going to be a potent ‘secret weapon’ at live shows.
‘Fragile’ is exactly what it says on the tin and a perfect vehicle for Jo Harman’s vocal chords. “I’m a long way from Janis…” she whispers at the beginning. She’s not so far from Linda Thompson with that voice of hers though – absolutely spine-tingling. All the male listeners will imagine she’s singing just to them – even in a packed concert hall. A song fragile – and beautiful – as a butterfly.
After the heartache a bit of up-tempo pop would have been a respite. Instead we have ‘Cold Heart’ which in theme and feeling could almost have been titled ‘Fragile Act II’. ‘Better Woman’ gives us a bit of guitar zing to rouse us from the misery although I’d love it to have been even more down and dirty. Maybe something for the live shows to put right.
To round off, a lullaby. ‘What You Did For Me’ is is both beautiful and relaxing in equal measure. Can you stay awake until the end with that sweet plaintive voice and melody drifting into your sub-conscious? To sleep then, perchance to dream – of Jo Harman, big concert halls and enormous success. That swishing subway sound? definitely arriving – and even if this is just the first release, Jo Harman is here to stay.