Jo Harman - Live at the Royal Albert Hall
Jo Harman is quickly becoming a superstar. I said it would happen when I reviewed her studio album, Dirt on my Tongue, and now, signed to V2 in Europe, playing in the Caribbean, and being nominated for awards in countries where you can’t even buy the album, the evidence is undeniable. Her rise has been driven at a grass roots level, built on incessant touring and live performance as much as her glorious album, she has fans that are committed, loyal and eager for anything that she can provide. It’s her fans that she has chosen to reward with a strictly limited edition release of a new, live, album purely on CD and vinyl.
The disc was recorded at last year’s London Blues Fest, at the Albert Hall, by the BBC. It goes without saying that the sound is stellar. It’s shockingly intimate, Jo often sings in a near whisper, but they’ve caught it all, every detail, every nuance of the event is there, from the cough of an attendee to the soft click that marks the attack of a note on the Hammond in Ain’t No Love, it’s as near to being there as possible for the many who couldn’t be there.
Jo’s live performances are a different beast to the crisp polish of her studio release. She deliberately doesn’t rehearse her bands, and regularly changes up the lineup from a pool of talent that reads like a who’s who of current popular music. The result is something looser, something freer, something with the hint of a jam to it. That could, in lesser hands, mean a throw away performance, but not here, it lets songs that many will be familiar with breathe and become something new. Jo throws caution to the wind and tries new things with her voice, she’s not scared of failure, and vastly more often than not what she tries comes off. There are more runs, more filigree, and they aren’t as direct as the album versions, but they don’t lack emotion. Jo has a vibrato that can be chilling which she pulls out only when necessary and a knack of sliding into a note, especially in the slower numbers, that draws gooseflesh and reveals her as a true blues singer.
The material matches the quality of the performance, with all the best songs from Dirt present and correct. Of particular note are the performances of Cold Heart and Sweet Man Moses that revel in delicacy and dynamics that can leave you breathless. There’s also the cover of Bobby Blue Bland’s Ain’t No Love which get’s a treatment that makes it very much Jo’s own song, including a sneaky application of the Layla riff that Clapton stole from Albert King. There is ample chance for her band to share the spotlight, with a particular emphasis on keyboard player Steve Watts, but it’s alway’s clear who’s the star.
I’ve seen Jo live, and it was a mesmeric experience. It’s this release that makes it clear that it isn’t the visual aspect of the show that captures you. Divorced of the visual a live performance from Jo is just as powerful, and I’m not really surprised. This disc, for the lucky few who get hold of one, is something special, a joyously spectacular performance from one of the UK’s finest ever musicians.