The latest album by this story-telling blues and soul songstress is a sweet combination between the old and new. “People We Become” being Jo Harman’s second studio release, is compiled with 10 tracks, each crafted with care.
Born in Luton and raised in a Devon village before moving to London to study for a BA degree in Performing Arts, she spent some time in India following the death of her father, and on her return attended a music academy in Brighton. In 2011, she released “Live At Hideaway,” which landed her a tour with The Cranberries in the UK and Europe, her first gig overseas saw her opening for them to 7,000 people.
Her second release, the self-penned album, “Dirt On My Tongue,” was released independently in 2013 and later licensed to V2 Records in The Netherlands. Harman’s song written about her late father, “Sweet Man Moses”, was nominated as best composition at the 2012 British Blues Awards and this was followed by “Worthy Of Love,” being nominated in the same category the following year, together with a ‘Best Female Vocalist’ nomination.
In 2014, she and her band mates were nominated for seven British Blues Awards, and she won “Female Vocalist Of The Year.” She appeared at London’s Blues Fest at the Royal Albert Hall and that performance was recorded by the BBC, some of it aired on BBC Radio 2 and later released as a live album.
Harman combines sultry blues and gospel vocals with a country-blues tone. The songs on the album deal with a break-up and heart-break, and then looking to the future with renewed hope. It is interspersed with smokey blues ballads such as “Lend Me Your Love”, with powerful lyrics like “Make me your queen and we will rise from the flames…” lending time to the ever-present topics of love and longing.
Though the album doesn’t capture the blues or country in the traditional sense, the way some blues fans might appreciate; it does manage to form a modern-day hybrid, at times combining varied forms of Americana rock. “The Reformation” may be one example of a newer version of that punchy and percussive old-school rock anthem that you might liken to Lenny Kravitz’ “American Woman”. Images of Heather Graham redundantly dancing on top of a bus may come to mind.
“People We Become” is produced by Nashville’s Fred Mollin and recorded over a three week period at the famed Sound Emporium Studio in Tennessee, with backing from some of Music City’s top session players. Harman has taken full advantage of this opportunity to create an album in the shared space of greats such as Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, to present day country music-makers such as Sheryl Crow and Kenny Chesney. I don’t think it would be presumptuous to say that the energy of this space may have had something to do with the completed sound of this well-rounded album.
Fred Mollin, a Canadian music composer and producer, has played his hand at creating a dynamic album with varied sounds and styles. He has worked with the likes of Billy Joel, Chris Cornell and Billy Ray Cyrus. In songs such as “Lonely Like Me”, their combined efforts have managed to nestle Harman’s vocals comfortably between keys and backing vocals, which only help to accentuate the demonstration of her talent. With a strong and well-trained voice, the album encapsulates her ability to use her voice powerfully.
The ballads do at times slow down the pacing of the album which, although dynamic, doesn’t allow the album to be played like a story from start to finish, which I find important. Listening to the album as I write this, I find myself skipping through certain songs because their tone isn’t in keeping with the mood set by a previous song.
The first single, “When We Were Young” is a nod to an old-school Motown feeling. With harmony vocals provided by the Doobie Brothers’ frontman, Michael McDonald, the song manages to encompass a feeling of lost days. Saying “When we were young, it was all so easy then” manages to yearn for a time in the past. Both musically and lyrically the song manages to hit the right notes.
The majority of the songs on the album do manage to capture a mature sound. Harman and co-writer Mike Davies, take the opportunity to build grand sounds which go far in trying to encompass a particular feeling. The opening track, “Bring Me Home” is a compelling introduction to Harman’s experienced vocal ability and the musical composition, which at no point feels like it’s fighting for ground over sonic-space.
Jo Harman has accumulated a dedicated following and has regularly toured internationally to meet the demand. Now signed to a US management company where this album is getting a full release and where she will tour this year, and once again it is licensed to V2 Records for the Benelux countries. If Jo continues to work on her craft and find new and interesting ways to make music, I’m sure she’ll continue to rise.
By Aisha Afifah
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’