I'm sure regular readers of this blog will not be too surprised to hear that from time to time I get a little obsessed about a particular singer. There is nothing more thrilling for me than finding a new voice that makes me feel like I am discovering music for the first time. The last time this happened to me was when I heard the peerless debut album Seasons Of My Soul from an artist simply known as Rumer. It took me a while to realise that this was a brand new record and not some lost sixties classic that had been unearthed. I despise the label "easy listening", but Rumer's voice is so easy on the ear that this is literally what the album is, a perfect parade of peerless pop poetry.
Rumer is most often compared to Karen Carpenter in terms of her vocal style, but while I agree there are shades of that legendary siren, she also has more soul to her voice, like she's the secret love child of Karen and Dusty Springfield. As always, comparisons only get you so far in appreciating a new voice. They're an easy shorthand to get you in the rough area and genre you're dealing with, but they don't ever do justice to the unique individuality of a voice and the need to listen and absorb it for yourself. I prefer to think of Rumer's voice as chocolate milk: sweet, but not sickly, creamy and smooth... and addictive. It's almost as if Rumer just breathes rather than sings, with her breath magically forming into notes that wrap themselves around some of the coolest arrangements this side of Dusty In Memphis. It is no wonder the legendary Burt Bacharach declared himself a fan, he knows a muse when he hears one.
Rumer has only recently launched her debut album in the US, but in the UK she has already made a huge splash, reaching number three and selling over half a million copies since its release in 2010. At the end of May Rumer released her second album, Boy's Don't Cry, which is a collection of covers of seventies tracks written by some of the greatest male songwriters of that era. It is another remarkable work, full of surprises and well-judged selections of little-known songs, the result of a painstaking journey of discovery taken by Rumer and her erstwhile producer Steve Brown. In just these two albums and the odd single release Rumer has already established an enviable catalogue of work. If you haven't heard Rumer yet, I strongly urge you to link to the Spotify playlist at the end of this blog and hear for yourself my top five, so far, from what I'm sure will be a long and successful career.
There are not enough superlatives available for me to describe the greatness of this song. From the opening gambit where Rumer seems to sing directly to the listener, to the goosebumpy low notes she hits in the sixth bar, to the cool loungeness of the chorus, this is an instant classic. By focusing on her voice, I've neglected to mention that Rumer is also a talented songwriter. Slow is an exercise in restraint, the lyrical conflict between rushing in head over heels and slowing things down is masterfully suggested in the music. A lesser singer might not be able to bring out the undertones of hurt and fear in what on the surface appears to be a hopeful love song. It is elegant and supreme, an amazing debut single.
"I got Aretha, in the morning, high on my headphones and walking to school..." so sings the schoolgirl who finds escape from her problems by listening to the Queen of Soul on this stunning track, part tribute, part self-empowerment anthem. Listening to this song is like giving your ears a Swedish massage. The silky arpeggios wrap themselves around your cochlea and work out any stress knots that might be lurking around. It is a love letter to the power of music to lift your spirits. I'm sure Aretha herself would have killed to sing this, so authentic is its soul. When Rumer jumps an octave for the final chorus all you can do is hold your hands up in praise, sublime and superior pop.
I Believe In You (2011)
Now one of my fetishes happens to be Bond themes and if I had my way then Rumer would be the natural successor to Dame Shirley Bassey. In the meantime we have a consolation prize in this homage, the theme from the spy spoof Johnny English Reborn. Unlike the movie, Rumer plays the song straight, a gentle acoustic intro leads us into a dreamy chorus that is movie soundtrack gold. Then joy of joys, the strings join in before finally the brass section erupts in a moment of pure Bondism. No disrespect to Rowan Atkinson, but this really should be a Bond theme, it is miles better than any since GoldenEye. Rumer's voice is again flawless, her class ensuring this never feels too camp (just camp enough, thank you). This is just one of many non-album tracks Rumer has produced, including the song Some Lovers that Burt Bacharach wrote for her, which are well worth seeking out.
P. F. Sloan (2012)
The lead single from Boy's Don't Cry is the Jimmy Webb penned P. F. Sloan. Now I'm a big fan of Jimmy's, but I'd never heard this track before, so I can only say a huge thank you to Rumer for introducing me to it. Like many of the tracks on the album it is very much a period piece and while Seasons Of The Soul sounds like a lost sixties soul classic, Boy's Don't Cry feels like a lost seventies singer/songwriter classic, which in some ways it is. It is easy to overlook references to Nixon when a song is as damn catchy as this one. Rumer manages to make it sound both of its time and current, no mean feat, while her love for the material comes out clearly in the smile of her voice. The "na na na na na"'s in the chorus will definitely ear worm their way into your head. Like many Webb compositions, the lyrics are poetry, with layers of meaning to mull over, a quite wonderful song that will find a new appreciative audience thanks to Rumer's stellar efforts.
A Man Needs A Maid (2012)
If by now you're contemplating investing in the album (and if not, why not?) then do yourself another favour and plump for the Deluxe Edition, which has four must-have bonus tracks. The standout for me is A Man Needs A Maid, a cut from Neil Young's classic album Harvest. The song is incredible and really exemplifies that breed of songs that somehow could only have been written in the seventies. The melody is understated, yet powerful, the lyrics are similarly straightforward, yet racked with meaning. Having a woman's voice deliver the song adds yet another layer of complexity to the mix, like an ex-lover finding her boyfriend's diary entry and reading it aloud. Apparently this is one of Rumer's favourites from the album and mine too. Everything about it just works, the voice, the arrangement, the sincerity of the performance. It caps a triumphant project and an album that will be on heavy rotation in my home for the foreseeable future.
I think Rumer was very wise to not rush a second album of self-written material, she needs time to come to terms with the success she has had and craft songs of the quality found on Seasons Of My Soul, which will take time. Her decision instead to do a covers album was a wise choice to keep her fan base happy and continue to grow a following, but the way she has done it, the sensitive selection of tracks and the thematic cohesion underlines that she is a special talent. She understands music and more importantly she understand the type of music she should be making. The material she writes and covers naturally fit her outstanding voice, so she never sounds anything but comfortable and confident, maybe that's why it feels so easy to enjoy. She has promised her fans a cover of Jimmy's MacArthur Park and I'm moist with anticipation. I saw her sing live at the Royal Festival Hall and can attest that she's the real deal and not the result of studio trickery. I hope you get the same buzz from her music as I have and that you will agree with me that a new British diva has well and truly arrived.
If you enjoyed reading this blog, please consider forwarding it or linking to it from your Facebook or Twitter account. You can post feedback below or to my Twitter account, @divasblogger. Sign up for alerts at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter. Boy's Don't Cry is out now on Atlantic Records in the UK, US release date to be announced. Also you can hear the tracks mentioned in this week's blog on my Spotify account at the following link:Rumer Has It