Album review: INA FORSMAN – Been Meaning To Tell You

Ina Forsman - Been Meaning To Tell You

Ruf [Release date 25.01.19]

‘Been Meaning To Tell You’ is a challenging cross genre album that suggests Ina Forsman will be a musical force to be reckoned with.

The low key vocal and piano intro to the opening ‘Be My Home’ serves notice of a singer-songwriter, vocal led album. Ina Forsman’s phrasing dominates throughout an album with significant big band accompaniment that broaches contemporary r&b, pop, soul, funk, jazz and blues.

A dozen tracks are built round her lyrical acumen and her ability to phrase ebulliently above Kazz Kazanoff and his Texas Horns, alongside a stellar cast of Austin A-list players including Laura Chavez on guitar, Chris Maresh on bass, and Red Young on piano.

Normally on a solo album the players don’t get such a big name check , but it’s the ambitious arrangements, her relationship lyrics and unfettered vocal style that makes this album work, or otherwise depending on your view.

Whoever was behind the decision to record the album with Mark ‘Kaz’ Kazanoff, obviously had a musical vision far bigger than some of the individual tracks here. It makes for some stellar moments, even if they sometimes tend to be within a song rather than the song itself.

Take ‘Genius’ for example, on which Forsman sings behind the beat on a big horn-led soul outing, before soaring when the moment takes her. Like the album as a whole, her vocal is partly beguiling and party annoying. For while she hints at many musical directions and lyrics nuances, she rarely hovers long enough to give a phrase real substance. Indeed Laura Chavez’s short but effective guitar solo gives the track its missing beef.

That said, Forsman’s lyrical ability is impressive, whether on the contrasting male perspective of sexual harassment ‘Whatcha Gonna Do’ – on which purrs like Eartha Kitt – or on the more sophisticated female retort ‘Why You Gotta Be That Way’, on which her purring diction ensures you get the feel if not always the meaning in her diction.

Her stellar phrasing dominates a funky, jazzy track that closely defines her contemporary feel on another song with an electric piano solo.

The cornerstone to the album is her interpretive ability and the way she wrings every last nuance from her own words, even if she does sometimes over sing.

No matter, you can’t help but think that it’s with innovative artists like Ina Forsman and Samantha Fish that blues will have any kind of enduring contemporary appeal.

She tops and tails the album with the focus squarely on her voice, albeit 2 minutes in from the opening ‘Be My Home’ we’re into a full blown gospel arrangement.

The following ‘Get Mine’ serves as a contemporary slice of funky r&b, with her breathless vocals and an annoyingly phrased hook that admittedly stays in the mind, which of course was probably the idea.

The album title comes from ‘All Good’, a light poppy outing on which her voice shifts from the angelic to outrageous swoops in an MOR context.

On the slow blues ‘Miss Mistreated’ she twists and turns every single lyric to illustrate both her considerable abilities, but also her shortcomings. She’s got an incredible range that sees her go from a purr to a huge swoop, but she lacks a natural middle range and tries to over compensate by straining.

They say a slow blues always asks the most of a singer, and though she attacks it with gusto, like the ‘Sunny’ book-end to the album, it sounds closer to a vocal exercise than any deep emotional connection.

However, this is far from being a one dimensional album, and the great moments easily compensate for the opposite.  She’s much better on the more relaxed vocal and piano arrangement of ‘Figure’, while ‘Who Hurt You’ is a notable highlight, being a cool soul outing with sympathetic horns, call and response bv’s and a belated flute part that leads to a big resolution

By contrast, the playful ‘Every Single Beat’, is built round a cluttered percussive Latino arrangement that is surprisingly well suited to her fast paced delivery. The track allows her to soar and swoop at will, as she cleverly incorporates some of the players as part of the song.

‘Been Meaning To Tell You’ will doubtless have many admirers and rightly so. There’s always room for challenging imaginative song writing and vivacious vocals in the blues, while any cross genre work is always something to be championed. Ultimately the album is just a little too busy, as her musical twist and turns mirror a restless spontaneous vocalist who is never going to settle for a one dimensional song.

You could argue that ‘Been Meaning To Tell You’ is groundbreaking, and that being so, it’s an album full of promise which might have benefited from just a little more restraint.  ***½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra

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