Contemporary, Folk, Jazz, Pop, Rock
Reviewed by Blair Greenberg, December 1st, 2015
Jo Lawry is a singer/songwriter from South Australia currently living in New York. She is best known as a backing singer with Sting and has been touring the world in his band. She was also featured in the documentary about backing singers, 20 Feet from Stardom.
When she was touring with Sting a couple of years ago, I heard her jam at The Basement in Sydney with Dominic Miller and he introduced her as “a really great backing singer”. I thought why not just “a really great singer”. But the next night I heard her sing with Sting and realised he was right – she is a really great backing singer. It’s a particular skill which a lot of singers don’t have. But backing singers don’t necessarily make great lead singers.
A pure voice such as hers lends itself well to backing vocals, but can it be a lead instrument? The answer is yes. Having studied and sung jazz for many years, Jo Lawry has developed a technically adept instrument, equally comfortable scatting improvised jazz solos as singing a pop song.
Taking Pictures is her second album and is a diversion from her jazz roots to more diverse styles. There is still a jazz sensibility but also influences such as Celtic, folk, pop and, it has to be said, her boss, Sting, who sings a duet with her on one song.
All ten songs on the album are written by her, and she has revealed herself to be a very fine songwriter. The change from writing on a guitar rather than piano has made the songs simpler and more focused, and more accessible.
Musically, there are still plenty of twists and turns and some interesting odd time signatures to keep you engaged. The song lyrics are mostly personal, with love the overriding theme. There is a nostalgic homage to Adelaide that could only have been written by an expatriate, and the song with Sting is a whimsical questioning of why we love.
I heard her sing these songs live at Camelot in Sydney, with a pickup band made up partly of members of Paul Simon’s band, and it didn’t disappoint. Jo’s intonation was flawless and the songs came to life in a live setting. Her engaging personality also gave the songs life.
This CD is an absolute delight. It has been lovingly crafted with very tasteful arrangements, beautifully played, complementing the songs perfectly. Produced by Jo Lawry and her husband Will Vinson, who also plays keyboards and saxophone, Taking Pictures is a journey that rewards you with every subsequent listen. Highly recommended.
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