Join Judge Russell Engbretson for an evening of music with smoky-voiced chanteuse Julia Fordham. Broken heart optional.
The British chanteuse/songwriter dazzles with her sultry and soulful repertoire.
This music DVD presents Julia Fordham live at the House of Blues in California, taped over two days on July 19 and 20, 2004. The band was assembled just weeks before the show, though they seem to have been playing together for months; Julia Fordham says in the commentary that they were only able to rehearse four times before the warmup gig. Every musician in the band is a consummate professional: Mark Isham on trumpet, Larry Klein on bass, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Dean Parks on guitar, Tim Carmon and Kevin McKeever on keyboards, Amy Keys providing additional vocals; and special guest vocalists Judith Owen and India Arie. This powerhouse lineup is a diva's dream band.
The songs on the DVD are as follows:
• Falling Forward
Julia Fordham sings in a smoky contralto that can also sweep upward to grab those higher tones when needed. Listening to a couple of early music videos in the extras, I could detect some of her loss of range at the higher end, but not anything drastic; it's normal enough for a vocalist's pipes to lose some of their edge with age. She says her major influences are the "three Jones": Jonie Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, and Rickie Lee Jones. Her musical style is grounded in a smooth, jazzy pop sound, but even with influences ranging from folk to R&B, and the just-mentioned influences, her song style is firmly middle-of-the-road.
In fact, her delivery is too middle-of-the-road and mellow for my taste, but she will appeal to listeners who are into the lounge-pop style Fordham has mastered. I enjoyed the numbers that allowed the band members to cut loose and do a bit of soloing. The song "Stay," for example, has a great drum buildup to the finale with a slow, wailing horn solo and double time guitar and bass parts propelling it along. The highlight of "Wake Up With You (The I Wanna Song)" is a standout virtuoso Hammond organ performance from Tim Carmon.
Fordham's songs are usually about love—of the unrequited or still-smoldering variety—sometimes with less than inspiring lyrics, like "I would have stuck with you through thick or thin," "I heard you're hanging around with some mousy girl," or "it's the same old story, don't know what's come over me." Fortunately her passionate vocals overcome much of the banal versifying. When she sings fine lyrics, like those she wrote for "Roadside Angel" (dedicated to Minnie Riperton, who died of breast cancer at the age of 32 and was one of Fordham's early idols), she soars. The simple folk-rock tune, embellished with a shimmering arrangement from the all-star band, becomes a moving anthem to Riperton.
A big disappointment for me was the single, short appearance of Judith Owen on "Happy Ever After" when she sang the chorus in three-part harmony with Fordham and Amy Keys; it was far too brief. Judith Owen's Twelve Arrows disc has gone for quite a few spins in my player, and her backup vocals on Richard Thompson's The Old Kit Bag CD are awe-inspiring. I would rather have seen Owen sing a full duet with Fordham. Alas, it was not to be.
On top of the generous hour and a half of concert footage, there is a solid offering of extras. There are five interviews that alternate between Julia Fordham and Larry Klein, her producer and bass player. Klein and Fordham both relate the stories of how they met and became professional partners, how musicians were selected for the DVD video, Julia Fordham's collaboration with India Arie, and other miscellany that will be a treat for her fans.
The extras also include three music videos: "(Love Moves In) Mysterious Ways," "Where Does The Time Go?" and an extra song that was cut from the DVD concert footage, "I'm Sorry, But…" Julia Fordham provides an entertaining commentary track for the concert that includes detailed information about the band members, as well as some talk about the genesis of several of the songs; and she relates anecdotes about the audience, shooting the concert (several of the numbers had to be shot twice or more to get a flub-free take), and other pleasant trivia.
The DVD transfer is pleasing to watch. Colors are bright, solid, and well defined (very little bleeding). The concert footage is good; I would like to have seen a few more inserts of the band members, but the edit does a creditable job of conveying the excitement of a live show without subjecting us to MTV-style manic editing. The sound options are great, including Dolby stereo, Dolby 5.1, and DTS 5.1. Forget the dull and lifeless Dolby stereo and go with one of the surround options. As usual, I recommend the DTS soundtrack if your receiver provides that option: The bass is deeper and better defined, the highs more sparkly, and the mix to the rear speakers is more aggressive than the Dolby 5.1. The DTS 5.1 track immerses the listener in the sound and delivers a more concert-like experience.
A rental of Julia Fordham—That's Live will afford the newcomer a chance to hear a portion of Fordham's oeuvre and decide if her music is to his liking. The fan will find this DVD an indispensable addition to his collection, and is advised to purchase it without delay.
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