Album review: JO HARMAN – Dirt On My Tongue

Chief [Release date 12.03.13]

Jo Harman is a ‘singer’s singer’. Everything about this album is tied up with her evocative phrasing, pristine diction and a husky voice that swamps the lyrics in honey.

‘Dirt On My Tongue’ is a surprisingly mature album for an artist at the beginning of her recording career. Songs such as ‘I Shall Not Be Moved’ and ‘Fragile’ evoke Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ album. Jo is a first class interpreter of song, as evidenced by the delicate cover of James Maddock’s ‘Fragile’ (taken from his hugely underrated ‘Sunrise On Avenue C’ album), which she imbues with her own delivery and feel.

Nothing is rushed, as she gives herself space, time and plenty of breath to bring out the nuances of 11 songs. The album is intuitively produced by her co-songwriter and guitarist Mike Davies, who has the good sense to layer his guitar parts as if colouring a palate, rather than dominating it. It’s only on the majestic slide break and mixed back solo of ‘Better Woman’ that he finally cuts loose as part of a gospel finale, as Jo reverts to being a backing singer on the extended outro.

‘Dirt On My Tongue’ is a brave album, as it eschews stylistic considerations and ignores the common wisdom of carefully sequencing tracks to facilitate a flow. The album is a triumph because of Jo’s ability to convey meaning and emotion though effortless phrasing.

She soars, swoops, and digs deep for introspective moments. She’s just as happy singing stripped down arrangements as she is being an integral part of a full blown gospel chorus. Her intrinsic ebbs and flows, subtle dynamics and shifts of emphasis lead the listener into songs that they might otherwise skip.

‘I Shall Not Be Moved’ sets the standard with a piano, voice and guitar triumvirate. Jo’s expansive phrasing is perfectly captured by Mike Davies’s clear production on an intuitively arranged slow burner that resolves itself in a gospel flourish.

The Harman/Davies songwriting team contribute 6 tracks to an album with an after hours feel. ‘Worthy of Love’ is full of uplifting phrasing, double tracked vocals, potent bv’s and a good hook, while ‘(This Is My) Amnesty’ is a gently voiced love song, with scraped acoustic strings, slide and piano. The song’s two parts are linked by an aching tremolo figure and a majestic choral and string arrangement, which ironically might make it just a tad too long for radio plays.

‘Heartstring’ brings a change of pace on a crisply recorded relationship song that opens with a jagged, percussive rhythm track. Jo soars on a beautifully recorded vocal with a catchy gospel chorus. The sudden but effective drop-down to a funky keyboard figure and brushed stroke shuffle, leads into the chorus via Jo’s guttural scream.

The fleeting moments of rock, soul, blues and jazz  are all subsumed by the presence of a vocalist who on ‘Sweet Man Moses’ – an ode to her late father – shows she also has real ability as a song writer.

The band stretches out on ‘Underneath The River’, and just when you think the guitars have taken over, Jo offers another exclamatory soul inflected scream on the outro to remind us of her presence. On ‘Cold Heart’, she even brings weight and substance to recycled couplets such as: ‘Cos I’m treading on broken glass’ and ‘You got warm hands and a cold heart’. The clever juxtaposition of a mid-number crescendo and the sudden drop-down to voice and piano and back again, gives the song an unexpected musical tension that she uses as spring board for another gospel finish.

‘Better Woman’ is carried by a slide break that conjoins the main body of the song with a spirited gospel finish and an unexpected coda

Jo Harman makes every song her own, irrespective of the tempo, style or arrangement. Her resonant timbre, subtle changes of emphasis, occasional elongated vowel and seamless shifts from front line to backing singer, confirms her versatility and range.

‘Dirt On My Tongue’ combines startling vocal performances with sufficiently strong material, for the listener to forget about the respective styles and simply recognise the fast rising talent of Jo Harman.  ****(4/5)

Review by Pete Feenstra




On Sunday 28 July 2019, David Randall celebrated his 600th show. “Assume The Position” started in June 2007 on UK City Radio before transferring a year later to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio. The show includes tracks played on the first show plus Upton Blues Festival highlights, new music and the regular features “Live Legends” and “Anniversary Rock” which this week celebrates the Island Records label 60th anniversary.

Listen in to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio…
Click the appropriate icons at the top of the page.

Power Plays w/c 19 August (Mon-Fri)

BEFORE FIRE Dead Eyes (indie)
SCOTT & MARIA Never Give Up (indie)
CORELEONI Queen Of Hearts (AFM Records)
BERLIN Transcendance (Cleopatra Records)
PHIL CAMPBELL These Old Boots (Nuclear Blast)
PHIL LANZON Blue Mountain (Phil Lanzon Ditties/Cargo Records UK)

Featured Albums w/c 19 August (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 SOLEIL MOON Warrior (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 ROXY BLUE Roxy Blue (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 DREW HOLCOMB & THE NEIGHBORS Dragons (Magnolia Music/Thirty Tigers)

Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)

JAMES STEVENSON Everything’s Getting Closer To Being Over (2013)

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One Response to Album review: JO HARMAN – Dirt On My Tongue

  1. Pingback: The Singers Room Presents…. Jo Harman

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