Title - 'The Language of Love'
Artist - Julia Fordham
For those not in the know here in the States, Julia Fordham is a British singer-songwriter whose professional career started in the early 1980s. For under the name "Jules Fordham" she was a backing singer for Mari Wilson and Kim Wilde, before signing a recording contract of her own later that decade.
In 1988, Julia released her debut album on Circa Records. Self-titled Julia Fordham, it reached #20 in the UK and eventually earned a platinum disc. It contained the Top 40 single 'Happy Ever After' (which peaked at No. 27 in August 1988). She then released her sophomore album, Porcelain, in 1989, charting higher than her debut (#13), it was certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry. [It was also Fordham's only album to chart on the US Top 100, reaching No. 74.]
In late 1991, Fordham released her third album, Swept. The album reached #33 in the UK and contained the Top 40 hit '(Love Moves In) Mysterious Ways', which peaked at #19 in early 1992 and was also featured in the 1991 film The Butcher's Wife.
Fordham's fourth album, Falling Forward, was released in 1994 and peaked at #21 in the UK. A single, 'Different Time, Different Place', narrowly missed the UK Top 40. In 1997, Fordham released her fifth album, East West and in 1988 The Julia Fordham Collection recapped the best-known songs from these five albums (whilst also included new versions of recordings, including 'Where Does The Time Go' which featured the vocals of Curtis Stigers.)
Since then Fordham has released Concrete Love (2002), That's Life (2004), That's Live (2005), Baby Love EP (2007), Songbook (2007), China Blue
(2008), Unusual Suspects (2010), re-releases as Deluxe Versions of Porcelain (2013), Swept (2013) and Julia Fordham (2016), Under the Rainbow in 2013), and then Live & Untouched in 2016.
Back with a brand new album, The Language of Love, out now via Red River Entertainment, Julia Fordham [who also will have a re-release in Deluxe Edition of Falling Forward upcoming this month via Cherry Red Records] is now bringing out a whole new set of her favorite songs. Ella Fitzgerald may well have already covered every traditional jazz song to perfection, but Fordham finds new artistic direction on some of her most beloved tracks from down the latter years.
1. 'Call Me'
2. 'Who's That Girl'
3. 'Happy Ever After' (2017)
4. 'I'm Not In Love'
5. 'Alone Again (Naturally)'
7. 'Like You Used To Do'
8. 'Eleanor Rigby'
9. 'The Morning After (The Night With You)'
10. 'At Seventeen'
11. 'Sir Duke'
12. 'Moon River'
13. 'You Make Me Feel Like Dancing' [Digital Only]
14. 'Moon River (Strings Version)' [Digital Only]
The album opens smoothly with a version of Blondie's upbeat hit 'Call Me', done in such a fashion as to make it sound like no other version of it that I have ever heard before in my life. In truth, one can say that about all the 12 tracks here, save for perhaps the cover of Fordham's very own 'Happy Ever After', of course. A stunning 'Who's That Girl' (Eurythmics) is up next and wow, what an incredible, simply awesome arrangement she brings to the fore.
The aforementioned 'Happy Ever After' is next and it is, as always, such a delight to hear. Now inclusive of a completely new mid-section (one that reflects on the current humanitarian crises and suffering affecting people in northern Africa and Syria), along with Vocal Beatbox from Herman Matthews, her hit debut single is still as breathtakingly heartfelt as it was back nearly 30 years ago.
Harry Kim's jazz trumpet on 10CC's 'I'm Not In Love' is the real backbone of the track, Fordham's breathy vocals getting lost sometimes under it, but she more than makes up for that on 'Alone Again (Naturally).' Containing the same piano vibe as Gilbert O'Sullivan's original, Fordham gets Grant Mitchell to quieten the keys whilst adding a little more smokey jazz club blues to the mix.
A cover of Sting's wondrous 'Fragile' is yet another highlight on this album chock full of them, but it's the Latin Jazz guitarist extraordinaire Ramon Stagnaro playing the signature theme that raises the track even more. That's followed by both the beautiful brand new track 'Like You Used To Do' and an absolutely out-of-nowhere, laid starkly bare recounting of the Beatles' 'Eleanor Rigby.'
Ramon Yslas, who has played with Santana amongst others, brings his percussion talents to the album on the second of the brand new tracks, 'The Morning After (The Night With You).' A song that oozes everything that is just so hauntingly irresistible about Fordham's delivery magnificently, it's followed by Janis Ian's 'At Seventeen.' For those who have never heard of Ian (shame on you), this was her most successful recording. As for the song, those oh so poignant lyrics, even today, are a commentary on society's beauty standards, adolescent cruelty, the illusion of popularity, and teenage angst, as reflected upon from the maturity of adulthood.
On an album like this, it's all about being in the right place at the right time; and surrounding yourself with the right people at the right time. Ergo, when you want to record something as adventurous as Stevie Wonder's 'Sir Duke' it makes great sense to include in your musical ranks a phenomenal trumpet player; such as the aforementioned Harry Kim. For not only is he, well, phenomenal, but he was also in the original live band that toured the Songs In The Key of Life album with Stevie Wonder.
The physical album closer is the Henry Mancini-composed musical wonderment of 'Moon River.' Featuring both guitarist Colin Ryan and Grant Mitchell's beautiful, dulcet piano playing, it just oozes a timeless seductiveness from the moment it begins. Also, if you purchase and download the Digital version of this album, you can listen to two (2) more tracks that do not appear anywhere else.
The first of two Digital-only download tracks is Leo Sayer's boisterous disco mega hit 'You Make Me Feel Like Dancing', which Fordham brings her trademark sultry slow roll to, and then another, albeit stirring, rendition of 'Moon River (Strings Version)'. Simply put, owning just the CD and not getting these two extra digital tracks would be a crime against music.
In closing, ever since releasing her debut self-titled album, each of Fordham's albums have been taut, heartfelt, real, honest and contained beautiful tracks with relatable lyrics. But there is just something here that makes The Language of Love stand out a mile from that pack. Perhaps it's as simple as how the album showcases Fordham's confidence in her voice and how it can be laid bare for maximum effect.
Whatever it is, this album - so named because, funnily enough, both the opening songs quote the very same line - brings a fresh and wondrous twist to these 12 tracks. Allowing them to be now be heard through different ears, through different minds, The Language of Love is not only highly enthralling, but is an out-front favorite for Album of the Year. Of that, have no doubt.
'The Language of Love' CD Purchase Link
BRAND NEW INTERVIEW WITH JULIA FORDHAM:
Given that The Language of Love was first released back in 2014 via JVC Japan, I'm wondering why it has taken three long years for Europe and the US to finally release it? "These things can and do take FOREVER! I don’t own or have control of the record so the pace is set by the label. Frankly, in the current climate where there seems to be a shift towards streaming only, it is nothing short of miraculous that JVC funded this project in the first place and committed to a gorgeous lush album package, and I am very grateful to them for that."
"I think they felt strongly about having it initially as a Japanese release. Once the life force for that idea had played out, JVC licensed the record to Red River Entertainment. As an incentive for those that bought the digital record already, 2 bonus tracks were made available."
Once again produced and arranged by your long-time collaborator and pianist Grant Mitchell, “The Language of Love” is, quite easily, one of the best albums of its genre I've heard in the past decade (or more). So what initially prompted you to write again and subsequently cull together this new album of lovely renditions back in 2014? "Thank you. I think Grant Mitchell really did a stellar job here in creating a fresh twist on a traditional genre. I am always writing. I have never stopped. I happened to have two songs that we felt would sit and fit well with the other classics and that would respond well to a jazz treatment."
The 12 chosen tracks are a delight, and in some cases you have masterly made them sound new, fresh, your own. In particular, 'Eleanor Rigby' stands out a mile for such a reason and so also seems the most challenging to have covered. Am I right, or was their another track that proved to be even more of a genre-changing challenge to you? "All praise be and credit to Grant Mitchell for that. I can tell you the pre-production for “The Language of Love” album was very involved. Grant and I sat for weeks and weeks going through the songs and trying different angles and approaches. We tried to get a balance of swing, traditional trio and something new and unique. I think on “Eleanor Rigby” in particular, Grant really did weave together some serious original jazzy magic."
"Although we did capture that sizzle and fusion on the day, the pre-amble and thought that went into setting up the space for that spontaneity with the band was quite intense. I sat with Grant on the piano at my house and I would try different ways of singing each track. We knew we were going to be recording in a true jazz style, as in LIVE. Our goal, as we had a limited budget, was to record 3 songs a day in the studio, which is what we did. Grant and I were very well versed in how we were planning to approach the tracks."
"Grant had pre-recorded his arrangement ideas as a reference for the musicians, then we had a first class ensemble around us that we had taken great care to mix and match and we were truly thrilled with the results. The atmosphere for the week of recording was so charged and focused. We truly had the most incredible time working with these outstanding LA jazz cats. We felt so blessed to have them sharing their gifts and genius."
Being that these are 12 of your favorite songs, in general, one assumes you either tried to record, or indeed did record others that didn't make the final cut? "The criteria for the song selection from JVC was that the songs we recorded for the album were huge hits in Japan or much loved by the Japanese people. There were no extra tracks recorded, we had prepared so well for the actual recording in the studio, and it was already agreed what the songs were going to be."
"We had limited time and funds. For this re-release now though, I have recorded another new track with Grant, the Leo Sayer classic, "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing." Also, Grant had made an alternative version of “Moon River” with lush and lovely strings that we were saving for something special, and this seemed like the perfect moment."
Listening to the album, it's truly as if your vocal tone, its range and such hasn't changed since you came onto the scene with your self-titled debut album in 1988. But, if and when you listen back to songs of yours as you go through life, are there stand out changes that you yourself are noticing in your vocal delivery, perhaps? "I work very hard to keep my voice in shape and in tip top form. So I do my scales regularly. I watch what I eat and drink and as live shows approach I run daily sets during the weeks building up to the tour so that my voice will hold up for all of the gigs."
"When we were recording "The Language of Love", I would do my warm up exercises on the way to the studio and had already rehearsed the songs over and over at home, hence how, when we came to record them in the studio I was able to immediately just throw myself into the energized renditions that our inspired musicians were pouring into Grant’s glorious arrangements."
For The Language of Love you included a remake of your own song, 'Happy Ever After' where you purposely created a new mid-section verse. To reflect on the current humanitarian crises and suffering affecting people in northern Africa and Syria, what else can you tell us today about your dedicated will to make such things as this more public knowledge? "“Happy Ever After” really has carried me around the world. It was a big hit in Japan and therefore an obvious contender for the album. I felt it was important to keep the message in the song fresh. After all, the original was 30 years old! It did not make sense to be giving the tune a jazz face lift and then to leave the old lyric about South Africa and apartheid in place. Events in Syria and North Africa were escalating and a re-write of the middle section mentioning them felt like an authentic reflection of current affairs."
The lone track taken from the Great American Songbook era is 'Moon River' (Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer). With all the other tracks "newer" in their creation, why was this song, first written in 1960 the one that you reached for? "This song is very popular in Japan. It also happens to be the song that reminds me of my Dad. He absolutely loved it. He used to sing it on a loop in the morning while he was shaving. He only knew the opening 4 lines apparently. Luckily, he had a terrific voice - a really amazing tone! I made him laugh telling him I had recorded the whole song for him so he could sing along and finally learn the rest, which he did! We played this version from "The Language of Love" at his funeral."
On 'Sir Duke', you managed to get legendary trumpeter Harry Kim, someone who was in the original live Stevie Wonder band that toured the Songs In The Key of Life album. How did that come about - or was it honestly just right place, right time? "We had asked the musicians with whom we recorded “The Language of Love" to recommend a trumpeter. They all suggested Harry Kim saying he was "THE GUY." They were right - he was and is. We had no idea about his Stevie Wonder connection, therefore making it somewhat hilarious that we played him our version of that track and then asked him how he felt about the signature horn line and although it was in a different key, we hoped he would be comfortable with it."
"He then asked us to come into his booth and told us the extraordinary story of how he auditioned for the great man himself with this actual part and this actual song! Of course we were stunned and enthralled and laughed about the synchronicity of it all. He was outstanding on every track he played on. No wonder Stevie took him on the road in his live band for years!"
Having written those two aforementioned brand new songs for The Language of Love - 'Like You Used To Do' and 'The Morning After (The Night With You)' - what was it like getting back into the writing of these songs after a few years off at that time? "I never have time off from songwriting or making albums. I never sit down to make myself write songs; they just come to me or they don’t. I just don’t have the energy to try and raise funds to make an album, hence why I haven't released anything since “The Language of Love.” I am sitting on some really strong songs though."
Finally, and with regard you writing new songs, have you already begun writing for a brand new album, perhaps? "I am feeling my next album might be called “Folky Smoky.” Acoustic guitar led and based. I have enough songs already. I have also started working with a wonderful singer-songwriter, an extremely talented British guy named Simon Petty. So I will go from my jazz project, "The Language of Love," back to my other roots. I had one foot in the local folk club as a teenager, singing my own songs there, and the other at the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Here I am, all these years later, still doing the same dance and straddling both genres!"