Monday, October 20, 2008

The Queen's Gospel

Last week my wife and I had the pleasure of seeing Julia Fordham, possessor of one of the world's dazzling voices. It's rare when she comes to the northeastern U.S. As my wife pointed out we are spoiled as witness bearers. Such epic singing in such an intimate setting. It is a voice famous in all respects except fame and I must assume that Julia decided a long time ago not to perform for that fickle guest.

On this tour she has the backing of a piano, drum and bass trio that catch the elliptical notes that she sends into orbit. Their backing vocals are tight without sounding too sessiony or pre-cooked. The playing is attentive, never indulgent, and surprisingly original. For instance we were treated to the first ever drum-fill pounded out on the palms of the drummer. That's right. He clapped through the break.

As good as these arrangements and executions the road to our mesmerizing trances is the instrument of Julia. She snaps, and squeezes, and limbos, and bellys and flirts in and out of diagonals and loopings and motions only as lovely as the sounds pouring out of her. As classy as her elegance as a performer she is equally engaging as an entertainer. The musical presence is operatic but the jokes swivel out from the bar stool. The voice is precious but Julia is not. Her stories are grounded in a rapport that only a theater major who happens to be your drinking buddy could possibly stage (-- and pull off as she did when her microphone drooped out of range on her opening number).

The other improbable force at play when you take in a Julia Fordham show is just how broad a reach of genres her tonal scale covers. She is a category of one and I'm no less stumped trying to name it than the last time she played in Boston. Gospel, folk, blues, pop ... every style is transformed by her lucid flow, beguiling charm, and exquisite timbre.

Please visit her Myspace page. And if you're fortunate enough pay her a personal visit should she grace a venue near you.

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