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Monday, March 26, 2012

Barbra Did It First...

If there is a diva common denominator, an icon so legendary that every artist since has been influenced either consciously or subconsciously, then it has to be Barbra Joan Streisand. Even today's hippest R&B divas tread in Barbra's size 8 footsteps. The hippest pop princesses scramble to re-enact Bab's career highs and iconic looks. Don't believe me? Then let me give you just a few examples of where Barbra did it first...

Winning an Oscar with your debut film role in a musical

It's 2007 and American Idol loser and future WeightWatchers poster girl Jennifer Hudson is the breakout star of Dreamgirls, the movie based on the musical based on The Supremes (allegedly). Her standout performance as Effie White has made her the toast of the town. People are amazed at the maturity of her performance in this, her first motion picture and in awe of her show-stopping rendition of the first act closer And I Am Tellling You I'm Not Going. The industry throws awards at her, including the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Could anyone have ever been so stellar in her film debut...

Flashback to 1969 and Barbra has taken her Fanny Brice from Broadway to the silver screen in Funny Girl. Critics and fans alike are wowed that she so easily made the transition from leading lady to movie star and she literally stops the show with the first act closer Don't Rain On My Parade. Result: Oscar for Miss Streisand.

Being a fashion icon

Every outfit that a diva wears, every hairstyle and make-up choice is fully scrutinised and judged - no pressure! A true diva sets trends, creates new looks and leads the fashion pack. Leading fashion diva of the moment has to be the reigning queen of the urban scene, Miss Beyoncé Knowles - the noughties Diana Ross. Now Sasha Fierce is not overfond of clothing, preferring to show a little skin...

But wait.. haven't we seen that look somewhere before?

In fact Miss Knowles may not be the trendsetter she pretends to be... it seems she has found inspiration from La Streisand on a number of occasions...

I rest my case. Clearly Barbra was the first hip-hop fashion diva! And come on Beyoncé , Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) is just Cry Me A River updated a bit and with a better dance routine. And Babs doesn't need a drag persona, she's got half a million queens pretending to be her on a daily basis. Barbra 3 - Beyoncé 0.

Diva duets

Now there's nothing we diva fans love more than a megastar duet. Never mind how terrible the song is (and they often are), there's nothing more thrilling than seeing two huge voices (and egos) battling it out on one track. Sometimes it's a hot artist of the moment who seeks a bit of extra cred and status by persuading an established superstar to join them on a track, like when Britney Spears begged Madonna to take her tongue out from her mouth long enough to record a song. The result? A number one hit in Denmark, Ireland and Hungary - Me Against The Music.

But Britters is not the first red hot diva to persuade her elder and better to duet up. Where did that mirrorball come from? It's 1979, disco rules and the queen is Donna Summer. But wait, who's that frizzing up their afro and boogieing up to the mic? It's Babs! A duet Miss Summer? Why I'd love to. Hang on though, my new album is all water themed, so let's tack on this slow intro about rain and tears, change the title and then I'll do it. Oh, and make sure I get all the good notes.

If you've only heard the single version of No More Tears (Enough Is Enough), you're missing out. Check out the 8:24 mix on Barbra's Wet album, or better still the full 11:43 version on Donna's On The Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes I & II. Go on, you won't regret it.

Hanging out with the President

We've previously established that Lady Gaga likes to "borrow" ideas from other divas, but maybe it's not Madonna who's her major mentor. There's evidence another legendary native New Yorker has heavily influenced the career of this pop magpie.

Gaga is a famous campaigner (for which we love her) and she has taken her lobbying to the top, making a beeline for President Obama. He admitted to finding Gaga "a little intimidating" when they met. A pop diva making a grown President quake in their presence... now where I have I seen that before?

Oh yes, that's right. Didn't Babs meet JFK? It's May 1963 and La Streisand is singing for her supper at the White House and grabbing a cheeky autograph from the President for her mum. She may not have been campaigning that night, but she's probably the most famous Democrat woman after Hillary these days. Her first recording was Happy Days Are Here Again after all, the Democrat party theme song.

But grabbing on the mantle of political diva isn't the most shocking steal that Gaga's made from Babs. You know all this "little monster" business and the whole "paws up" thing that Gaga does with her fans...

Well where do you think she got that idea from!

Enough proof? I'm convinced I can find evidence that Babs has originated every idea any diva has ever had. Challenge me if you dare!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Barbra Streisand: she did it all first!

If you enjoyed reading this blog, please consider forwarding it or linking to it from your Facebook or Twitter account. Also you can hear the tracks mentioned in this week's blog on my Spotify account at the following link: Barbra Did It First.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Unfinished Business: Kate Bush, Director's Cut

I should begin with a disclaimer: I am a massive Kate Bush fan. While I am a fan of all the subjects of these blogs, my love of Kate goes deeper, has been longer and by far stronger than any other. That does not mean I can't be objective and critical of her work, just that I can't bear it if anybody else is! You see, she belongs to me in a special way that you will only understand if you too have total adoration for an artist. I'm happy to share her, in fact I take delight if others hear her and enjoy the experience, but fundamentally my relationship with Kate is a private one, shared with a very few intimates (yes, you Amanda). Today I give you a peak inside this most sacred, sensual world, so lace up your red shoes and let's take a look at this woman's work.

For the last two decades being a Kate Bush fan has mainly been an exercise in nostalgia. We waited twelve years for 2005's Aerial, an extraordinary double album that rewarded our patience by revealing a new Kate. Her voice had deepened and gained a rich resonance, her songwriting had evolved and become less restricted by the rigours of a traditional pop song and her arrangements and production had become more open and confident. The waiting melted away and when listening to Aerial it felt like Kate had spent her time away wisely. After this rush of excitement, we began to wait again, not expecting an early release, but sated for now. Six years passed, a mere tremor in the time continuum for Kate, and we had word of a new album, but it was not what anyone had expected.

On Director's Cut Kate would revisit tracks from her albums The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, creating new versions using the best of the original musical performances and re-recording the rest. This was astonishing to Kate followers for a number of reasons. She is famously reticent about her old material, with only one, contractually obliged, compilation album to date. Kate often deflects questions about her early material by saying she never listens to it. So what was driving her to recreate her old songs and why only from these two albums and why now? So many questions!

Kate's answer was that although she was happy with these albums at the time, or she would not have released them, she now felt she could do more justice to some of the songs with what she had learnt while making Aerial. It's not at all unusual for an artist to look back at their previous work and express unhappiness with the results and it was clear that Kate felt she had unfinished business with these two albums that was preventing her from being able to move on freely with new material.

The Sensual World had to follow Kate's commercial and critical highpoint, Hounds Of Love, meaning expectations were stratospherically high. Nothing on a Kate Bush album is there as filler. You sense each track is a kind of experiment in song, and like all experiments, some are successful, others less so, but the results are always interesting. On The Sensual World there is a sense that some of the tracks were swamped by Kate's experimentation, with just one or two layers of sound too many, or a lyric or theme not quite fully realised. This album contains some of my most favourite Kate songs, but I can acknowledge it doesn't quite gel in the way its predecessor did.

The Red Shoes was made at a time when Kate's personal life was less than perfect. Suffice it to say that the album feels like it was made under pressure, with an unusual reliance on guest artists like Prince and Eric Clapton to supply the thrills rather than Kate's own genius. The expectation was set that this would be the soundtrack to a live tour, her first since 1979, and it may be Kate felt she had something to prove commercially at that time. The tour didn't materialise and the short film she made to accompany the album instead, while charming and very watchable, was thought a disappointment by many, Kate included. After 17 years of solid work Kate had hit a wall. It was time for a well earned rest and for her to focus on her personal life.

So we can intuit reasons for Kate wanting to revisit songs from these two albums, but to do so was not without risk. Indeed some fans reacted with hostility to the idea that these tracks could be improved; she sensibly pointed out that the originals would still exist. Director's Cut reportedly took longer and was more difficult than Kate expected, not least because the key on most of the songs had to be lowered to accommodate her deeper voice. She was emphatic that this was a new album, to be heard and judged on its own merits, but inevitably fans will compare and contrast the old and new. So was the effort worth it? Was Kate able to improve on her earlier work? Here are my views on whether the tracks benefit from Kate's director's cut.

Flower Of The Mountain (Previously Titled The Sensual World)

When making The Sensual World Kate had wanted to set the Molly Bloom soliloquy from Ulysses to music, but was denied permission to use the text. When she tried again for Director's Cut she was successful, so she was finally able to realise her original vision for this track. Kate inhabits Molly Bloom, she is earthy and sexy and, appropriately, sensual. It is exciting to hear the track as Kate intended, but in a way I'm glad she had to invent her own version initially, as The Sensual World is in effect a separate song, exploring the experience of a character coming to life from the page, rather than a dramatic reading.

Verdict: honours are even, both versions offer something unique.

Song Of Solomon

Based on the Bible's love poem, this beautifully frank lyric about relationships is set against a languid musical backdrop. My favourite Kate vocal was on the original version, so this had a lot to live up to. The new version is warmer, benefiting from Kate's preferred analogue production and the sparser arrangement lets more air into the song.

Verdict: the new version has a slight edge on the original.


An invocation of angels to protect you, Lily is a storming song of self empowerment. The new version does not alter the structure much from the original, but again the arrangement is less layered and the vocals are more central. To hear Kate unleash at the climax of the track, ably supported by Mica Paris, is truly magical.

Verdict: the director's cut wins.

Deeper Understanding

That Kate originally released this song about computer obsession in 1989, pre-broadband, pre-Facebook, shows what a visionary artist she is. The original version uses the Bulgarian folk artists Trio Bulgarka to create an ethereal theme for this virtual world. On the new version, Kate's son Bertie has his voice contorted by programming to create the voice of the computer. The song's structure is also loosened, with an extended breakdown bringing in some jazzy motifs.

Verdict: there is merit in both versions, but the director's cut fulfils Kate's dystopian vision.

The Red Shoes

A take on the fairytale and an homage to the Powell/Pressburger movie, this lively romp is looser and stripped back in the new version, with great eccentric vocal flourishes. "Whoop Whoop!"

Verdict: love the live feel and fun energy of the new version.

This Woman's Work

The first of two tracks that have been completely reworked by Kate, this is one of her classic songs and one of the few that is regularly covered by other artists. Here she reclaims it completely, by creating a slowed down, icily delicate, barely there song structure on which Kate delivers an achingly gorgeous vocal performance.

Verdict: though the original is faultless, the new version is easily its equal.

Moments Of Pleasure

Apparently Kate is surprised people think this is a sad song, as that's not what she intended. Listening to this it's hard to imagine why she's so confused, as it is hard not to cry when memories of loved ones are so caringly invoked, even if they're not yours! Anybody who has lost somebody special will identify with this amazing song. The original was recorded around the time Kate lost her mum and the emotion is raw. The new version feels like grief that has had the benefit of time and has become part of you. One of Kate's most incredible achievements.

Verdict: again, a Kate classic given an equally classic makeover.

Never Be Mine

"I look at you and see my life that might have been..." This tale of unrequited love is one of my favourite Kate songs, it is truly heartbreaking in the original, but the raw, honest vocal Kate delivers on the new version won me over. I also love the new arrangement and the more open song structure.

Verdict: fully requited love for the director's cut.

Top Of The City

A tale of obsessive love, this is one of Kate's most dramatic songs. I'm struggling on this one to see what has really changed from the original. It does benefit from a warmer analogue sound and Kate's new vocal is fully on point, but it does not add much overall.

Verdict: the original may have it, as it possesses more energy than the new version.

And So Is Love

Again, hard to see what has changed in this new version of a classic Kate break-up song. The one major change, with the lyric moving from "Life is sad and so is love" to "Life is sweet.." does not work for me. I understand fully why Kate has done it, her life now is sweet compared to when she wrote the track, but it doesn't fit the song's meaning or vibe. There is rumoured to be a six-minute version of the original and if the new version had restored that, then maybe it would have held more interest.

Verdict: the original wins for me, hands down.

Rubberband Girl

Almost left off the album, this is again an almost total reworking of the original from a poppy tune to a Rolling Stones-esque rock number. It's fun, but I can see why Kate was in two minds, it definitely feels like an out-take rather than a natural fit on the album.

Verdict: hard to compare to the original, more of a fun jam than a remake.

And The Winner Is...

Director's Cut definitely works as an album in its own right and it is fascinating to hear Kate's reworking of her original tracks. It underlines her development as an artist since her break and what is now important to her musically. The maturity of Kate as a vocalist, combined with her confidence in her skills as an arranger and producer shows that she continues to evolve and improve as an artist. If we thought that this wonderful album was Kate's biggest surprise in 2011 we were wrong. Director's Cut obviously did its job in allowing Kate to draw a line under her previous work and move forward, as just a few months later Kate released an album of new material, 50 Words For Snow. But more on that another time...

If you enjoyed reading this blog, please consider forwarding it or linking to it from your Facebook or Twitter account. Director's Cut is available now on Kate's own label, Fish People.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The new Queen of Pop? Gaga vs Madonna

One is a pop music sensation, fashion icon, friend of the gays and polarising figure of controversy. The other is Lady Gaga. The parallels between Gaga and her admitted musical influence, Madonna, are manifold. Both of American-Italian heritage, both emerging from the New York club scene, both international pop culture icons, it is easy to look at Gaga and assume that here is the pretender to Madonna's throne as Queen of Pop. I, however, am not so sure that Gaga's destiny is to emulate Madonna's seemingly impossible feat of remaining relevant and hugely successful in the ephemeral world of pop for three decades. Are the similarities and parallels between the two proof enough that Gaga is here to stay, or will she end up as roadkill on pop's highway like so many before her? Is Lady Gaga on the Edge of Glory or is this just another Bad Romance?

Madonna may not have been the first woman to use her sexuality and persona to sell records, but she was the first to do it from a position of power and control. She redefined forever the image of women in music, from passive objects of (usually) male pleasure to active and, crucially, equal partners in the mating dance of pop. If you were turned on by Madonna it was because she had given you permission to enter her seduction and when she wanted it to stop, it would stop. But it was not just this show of erotic force that made Madonna a star, she also made era-defining pop music.

Two of her earliest singles forged iconic images of Madonna that still resonate in her career today. To announce that she was Like A Virgin seemed astonishingly bold back in 1984 and the iconic video took the two female paradigms of madonna/whore and smashed them together with such force that they no longer became a binary choice for women artists. Material Girl then followed and removed the remaining male power of financial control. Madonna acknowledges money is central to male/female relationships, but instead of the man using it to control her, she is the one that determines who her benefactor will be. The double whammy of these two touchstone singles created an iconic image for Madonna based around these dual concepts of sexual and financial independence, which still define her in the public's mind today.

Gaga is now at the same point in her career that Madonna was when her icon was forged. Two albums in and it is not as easy to pinpoint what Lady Gaga's iconic brand is. She instead has played the chameleon, changing her look constantly and creating multiple personas, while playing with different musical styles. While this demonstrates her undoubted creativity, it makes it difficult to know Gaga: feeling connected and committed to our icons is a critical element of career longevity.

There is also the danger of diminishing returns. If we know that Gaga will always be attempting to shock or titillate us, then that very expectation undermines her ability to do so. This constant barrage of looks and sounds has also led to accusations of piracy from other artists, most notably when her single Born This Way was seen as a direct copy of Madonna's Express Yourself. The two songs are incredibly similar, from the talky intro to the identikit chorus. Let's be kind and say it's homage, though Madonna when asked said she thought it was "reductive".

In some ways Lady Gaga is the perfect post-modern popstar: fragmentary and disposable. My fear is that the music she produces is not strong enough to support her career long term, once the 20 million Little Monsters tire of her tweets and click "unfollow". She has had some interesting singles and has a knack for a catchy motif, I couldn't get the chant from Bad Romance out of my head for weeks, but I find it impossible to recall an entire Lady Gaga song. You remember the ear worm elements, but the verses with their scant melodies tend to fade quickly. Gaga has undoubted musical talent, but for me her compositions lack staying power, they are in one ear and mostly out the other. She also has a very ordinary voice.

Madonna is not a great singer, but she is a recognisable one. She has made the most of her limited vocal ability, working extremely hard on her technique, but critically she has an interesting and unique voice. You can identify Madonna's voice almost instantly you hear it; Gaga, not so much. The uniqueness of a singer's voice is fundamentally important in securing long term success; if you sound like everyone else, then why should I listen to you?

Madonna is on the verge of releasing her twelfth studio album, MDNA, and through an inspired half-time show at this year's Super Bowl has reaffirmed her position at the top of pop's monarchy. Whether Lady Gaga reaches a similar career milestone will depend on whether she has the energy and creativity to sustain an image built on constant revolution. She might be better advised to take a tip from her mentor and create an iconic brand that explains to the public what she stands for and look to evolve it over time. Oh, and she should also remember that when the image fades, it's the music that's going to last.

If you enjoyed reading this blog, please consider forwarding it or linking to it from your Facebook or Twitter account. Also you can hear the tracks mentioned in this week's blog on my Spotify account at the following link: Queen of Pop?.

Monday, March 5, 2012

UnSung Heroine: The Julia Fordham Story

Julia Fordham is one of the very finest female singer/songwriters Britain has produced. She is blessed with a sonorous, beautifully fragile voice and her stock in trade is to deliver disarming, heartfelt love stories set against delicate and complex chord structures. I was lucky enough to discover Julia at the start of her career and I have now been following and enjoying her music for close to a quarter of a century. Her tale is a familiar one in the music industry; early buzz when signed to a major label, but somehow unable to crossover to a mass audience. I am at a loss to explain why this should be the case; in my opinion Julia should be cherished as a national musical treasure. Julia has enjoyed success in many international markets, but she remains largely unsung in her homeland.

Like me, Julia is enjoying the Ex-Pat lifestyle in California and last week, for the first time in over a decade, I got to see her play live again at her new monthly residency at Molly Malone's Irish Pub in LA. Julia is a consummate live performer and with musical guests including Vonda Shepard, Tim Booth and Judith Owen it was truly one of the most magical evenings of music I have ever enjoyed. So if you've never heard Julia's music, or you vaguely remember her early hit singles, here is my guide to her career to date and the best of her many, many exquisite songs.

Julia Fordham (1988)

The teenage Jules Fordham, as she was then known, cut her musical teeth by playing local folk clubs in and around her hometown of Portsmouth. She got her first big musical break when she was chosen to be a Wilsation, backing singers to the Neasden Queen of Soul, Mari Wilson. Now part of the London music scene, Julia was able to secure her own record deal, signing with Virgin imprint, Circa Records in 1987. Her first album, Julia Fordham, was released a year later and I instantly fell in love with it. I was ridiculously excited to be invited by her record company to meet Julia briefly at one of her first live shows at Norwich Theatre Royal. Seeing Julia perform live underscored what a special talent she is. I can still recall with great clarity the show, the sweet, funny woman who was on stage and the searing impact her music and voice had on me emotionally and spiritually.

Julia's second single, Happy Ever After, attracted strong radio play and was a top 30 hit in the UK. The song cleverly takes a relationship break-up and frames it against the, then still current, apartheid regime in South Africa. In lesser hands this could easily seem to trivialise a tragedy, but the beauty with which Julia interweaves the heartbreak with her sadness at the suffering taking place in South Africa, combined with the stunning African chant that builds at the climax of the song, lifts a simple love song into an anthem. Julia was able to re-record the song in 1998 with a revised lyric to reflect the fall of apartheid, but for me the original version remains beautiful and evocative, if now happily anachronistic.

Julia Fordham is a strong mix of uptempo numbers and beautiful ballads. My favourite track on the album is Invisible War, another break-up song, but this time Julia's voice is set against the starkness of a gentle piano accompaniment. It allows her voice to fully connect with the listener. The album did solid business, peaking at number 20.

Porcelain (1989)

Julia's second album came just a year later and is her masterpiece. Porcelain is one of the most complete albums I have ever heard. Each song fits perfectly, each lyric is intriguing, each melody is beguiling. The production has a warmer feel than on her first album and overall it displays a more sophisticated, confident air. Julia's sound began to evolve on this album, with touches of jazz and bossa nova working their way in to her arrangements. Sadly none of the singles released managed to chart, but by now Julia was clearly being seen as more of an album artist. She had begun to build a strong, loyal following and the album charted high at number 13.

It's hard for me to select favourite tracks from this album, as they are all so much part of a whole listening experience, as a great album should be. My recommendations for newcomers are the title track (which explores how it is to be "very, very much in like" with someone, but unable to commit fully), and Girlfriend, where Julia just wants you to hold her, just don't bother mentioning it to your other half, she wouldn't understand. As you can see, the songs are not just "girl meets boy", they're more "girl kind of likes boy, but is also a potential homewrecker".

One of Julia's best songs came just after Porcelain was released. Manhattan Skyline tells of a NYLON love affair a decade before that term became part of the pop culture lexicon. Julia's heart is "as broken as the Manhattan Skyline" and "so British". This is much a short story as a song; in fact you mentally create the movie that this could be the soundtrack to as you listen. It is a fan favourite and got Julia deserved attention in the US market.

Swept (1991)

By this point Julia had solidified her "sound" and Julia's third album Swept is another high quality set of adult pop songs. The lead-off single was another break-up song (I told you it was her stock in trade), I Thought It Was You. This tale of "what ifs" and "coulda beens" is hypnotically subtle in the way it recounts the details of the failure. It arrived at an emotionally turbulent time in my own love-life and I became almost dangerously obsessed with this song, we all have those tracks that seem to be written about us and this is one of mine. There is a moment in the song when Julia sings "I'm not looking for the answer baby, I'm just looking for a little love" - I defy anyone who's had their heart broken to listen to this track and not be moved. Luckily I am now able to enjoy it on a more detached level as yet another gorgeous gem in Julia's repertoire.

Frustratingly the single stalled just outside the top 40, but Julia was to have her biggest hit to date with the theme from the Demi Moore movie, The Butcher's Wife, recorded just after Swept was released, but later added to the album. (Love Moves In) Mysterious Ways is a perfect movie love theme and Julia sings it beautifully. You would never know it wasn't composed by Julia, so well does it fit her, and it shows she is a wonderful interpreter of other people's songs. Hopefully we can look forward to a covers album at some point.

Falling Forward (1994)

For her fourth album, Falling Forward, Julia teamed up for the first time with acclaimed producer Larry Klein. The album has more edge to it than her previous work, the songs are again perfectly pitched, but it feels there is less polish applied, leaving a raw, more open feeling to the songs. My particular favourites on this album are the title track and I Can't Help Myself, one of Julia's less rare "madly in love" songs, it is joyously childish in its celebration of love; the girl can't help it. Falling Forward finds Julia in more problematic relationship territory, while not yet breaking up, it's clear there's some serious passive aggressive behaviour going on. The chord sequence on this track is simply gorgeous and Julia's vocal perfectly evokes the feeling of falling forward.

Although the album charted at number 21, that loyal audience was still there, sales were not strong enough to keep her record company happy. Again the singles failed to get radio support and without wider exposure Julia was finding it hard to reach a wider audience. It might have been that her label was giving up or had moved on to other artists, but Julia was clearly not getting the support she had previously enjoyed. It was the beginning of the end for her relationship with Circa, to the extent that her next album failed to even get released in the UK, which is tragic, as it is one of her best and my personal favourite.

East West (1997)

Luckily East West was released in other territories and I was able to get hold of an import copy. Another Julia Fordham album and another dangerous obsession for me. This was easily my most-played album of 1997, again Julia had found my sweet spot in terms of writing my life story in song (with some forgivable poetic license on my part, of course). This album is simply full of gems, again like Porcelain it is a complete listening experience. It has a more laid-back sound than her previous album, Julia sounds relaxed and is on top form throughout. For starter listeners, play the title track, which has a great, jangly repeating theme underpinning Julia's search for new love. I'd also recommend Stay, which has become Julia's counter-intuitive sign-off number in her live shows, which builds to a rousing chorus of "come on, come on, come on"s that are impossible not to join in with.

To mark the end of her relationship with Circa/Virgin, a compilation album, The Julia Fordham Collection was released in the UK in 1999. It contrarily included two cuts from the unreleased East West, as well as new remixes of earlier songs and two new tracks. One of these, It Was Nothing That You Said is one of my favourite Julia tracks and was recorded during the sessions for East West. Julia said she wrote it as a country song and it definitely could be a great bluegrass ballad. Perhaps we can look forward to Julia In Nashville someday?

Concrete Love (2002)

A fresh start beckoned when Julia was signed to Division One, an Atlantic subsidiary and work began on her next album, Concrete Love. You have to be tough to survive the music business and Julia's mettle was again tested when the label was scrapped by Warners and she was let go while in the process of completing the album. Julia regrouped and was able to complete the album and release it through the independent label Sanctuary.

Julia comes out fighting on Concrete Love, it is funky and confident, with Julia stretching her voice at both ends of her impressive range, her control and tone on her lower range is among the best you will hear and she is just as able to soar to the high notes. She is clearly ready to take risks and try new approaches and the album, while not her most complete work, is endearing because of that. A good example of this new style is the title track, which features a sultry guest vocal from india.arie. Free from major label pressures, Julia clearly was in a good place with her creativity.

That's Life (2004)

By now Julia was an extremely popular live performer, with that ever loyal audience supporting her at every opportunity they had. Her next album That's Life was recorded in just a few sessions with her group of musicians and subsequently feels almost like a live performance. The album has a much more intimate feel to it as a result, although the songs are perhaps not the strongest she has written. However, there is much to enjoy here, as on the groovy Sugar, where Julia is clearly relishing the opportunity to jam with her band.

A live album, That's Live, followed the next year before Julia took a short hiatus while she became a mother. There was a Baby Love EP in 2006, with five songs dedicated to her daughter Marley Rose, which proved beyond doubt that for Julia, as for all new mums, this was a deeply joyful experience.

China Blue (2008)

When Julia returned after her four-year break, it was with a little surprise. China Blue is Julia's first jazz album and includes new songs and jazzy retakes of some earlier works. Julia shows she has a great jazz voice, particularly as it is now more mature and naturally deeper. It sees her reunited with her Porcelain co-producer, Grant Mitchell, and it consequently has a delightful déjà vu quality.

Unusual Suspects (2010)

Julia's latest album emerged in 2010, a joint project with actor/musician Paul Reiser. The pair clearly hit a solid songwriting groove and there are some sublime songs on the album. The album finds Julia in good voice and Paul's accomplished piano playing makes for a high class listening experience. Particularly moving is a song about the pain of separation for the families of those serving in the armed forces, UnSung Hero. My favourite track though is Trusted, a cautionary tale about the danger of strangers, which catches you off guard, so sweet is the melody, so dark is the subject.

As you can see, Julia has created a distinguished body of work and it certainly deserves to reach and be enjoyed by a larger audience. I would love to see her get the acclaim she deserves in her home country. I'm not sure that is important to Julia anymore, but it certainly is a frustration for her many fans when other, lesser talents garner so much praise and attention. So please, pop over to Spotify and listen to the playlist of the tracks I've highlighted in this blog and if you like that, head over to iTunes where you'll find many of Julia's albums to purchase and enjoy, and once you've done that, tell your friends. Every diva fan's record collection should, at the very least, contain Porcelain and mine certainly wouldn't be complete without possessing the entire catalogue of the divine and matchless Julia Fordham.

If you enjoyed reading this blog, please consider forwarding it or linking to it from your Facebook or Twitter account. Also you can hear the tracks mentioned in this week's blog on my Spotify account at the following link: UnSung Heroine.