Singer-songwriters. If you believe the mass media, they’re ten-a-penny, a burgeoning army of bed-sit balladeers hiding behind an acoustic guitar and stories of woe, stopping occasionally to kneel at small idols of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. The truth, as if you were going to get that from the national press, is very different. For a start, they’re fed only on what’s pushed in front of them and only rarely do they emerge into the real world to find what’s on offer off the beaten track.
If they did, they might stumble into Servant Jazz Quarters on a February Thursday to see a relocated Canadian native faithfully reproduce tracks from her latest album, Between Green And Gone, to a packed audience whose respect for her craft may not make for a raucous crowd but allows for a proper connection to the music she’s playing. What Miriam Jones lacks in height, she makes up in stature, and tonight is proof that her excellent support slot for Roddy Frame in December was no one-off.
Before she does her thing, the Beatrix Players occupy the stage. A trio, Amanda (Spain), Jess (Australia) and Amy (Stoke!) who play cello, piano and vocals respectively. Their default is a warm series of piano-driven songs that combine the dynamics and vocal delivery of Kate Bush with Tori Amos piano-gymnastics. There’s a chamber feel to their arrangements that sits slightly awkwardly in the dark basement of Servant Jazz – I’m reminded more of brightly lit afternoons in the Georgian rooms of a conservatoire. Walk Away, Never Again (with its empowerment message) and Ophelia (inspired by the character in Pans Labyrinth) stand out, as does a clever cover of Paint It Black. Best of all is High Heeled Shoes which has a superb piano arrangement. The occasional addition of percussion from Amy provides some steel and between songs there’s some relaxed banter on stage. All accomplished musicians, Beatrix Players are planning a debut album later this year.
The night before this, Jones launched her album in her adopted hometown of Oxford. Tonight, she takes London in her stride. Backed by a solid band, including her album producer and one-time Fairground Attraction bass guitarist Simon Edwards, her lazy grooves and spiky lyrics wing their way into the North London air. Two things define Miriam Jones. Her voice is great, capable of good range and with a sexy rasp in the appropriate places that adds grit. The other is the quality of her songs, which err on the pop side of roots and contain explosively catchy choruses. There are sufficient nods to the electric guitar to assuage those of us with the need for a harder edge every once in a while.
The opener Train is a good example; instantly likeable melody, real depth to the words and a hook that creeps up on you, spills its drink over your best shirt and then moves on, smug grin and all. Her voice is on point straight away, particularly on the finishing couplet – ‘Stood on the blocks above the flats, the heat was trembling on the tracks / And then you thundered past’, which she delivers with all the care-worn, hard-won experience of someone who’s done just that. All Over is similar in structure and follow up Cracks sizzles despite its mid-paced beat, the lyric an honest portrayal of infidelity in the first person that’s bound to make a few people wince when they read it. If these three songs share anything, it’s a natural affinity for a foot-tapping, head-nodding BPM and that indefinable quality that finds you humming the hook hours, days later.
Don’t Be Hard On Me benefits from a steady hand on drums, Martin Barker employing brushes and the kick drum in simple rhythms that enhance rather than overstate. Set highlight Float really rocks. The band click into upper gear and Jones has loosened her shoulders, smiling more and interacting. In fact, the band are having fun, Calum MacColl and Edwards pinning down the sinuous tunes and holding them fast to Jones’ voice, which is occasionally augmented by Edwards wife Ginny. For a band that’s in its first flush, they are remarkably tight, though Jones is, whilst amusing, chronically nice at the mic; I longed for the odd ballsy intro to match her excellent lyrics.
The slow waltz Given All – ‘Please do me a kindness and leave me to my mind when you see my facing it around this place / Offer me your silence, your words do only violence / Just leave my shame alone…’ stops a few listeners in their tracks, but the killer here is Unknown, with its ‘..there’s been a big misunderstanding’ line raising the bar in a dark tale that starts at walking pace and hints at dangerous currents beneath ordinary lives. The music is perfectly pitched to maintain the tension – it’s like a Scandinavian cop show in four and a half minutes.
The final three songs build nicely. Missed You is a swampy ballad, Words Away, from 2010 album Fire Lives, is an excellent response to the country standard When You Say Nothing At All, which suffers due to its association with Ronan Keating (come on, it does, right?), and closer Warning is greeted with whoops, the chorus sung by those in the crowd lucky enough to have the album already. Jones does Between Green And Gone due credit here and it deserves a wider audience. Singer-songwriters, eh? Some of them are really very good.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Order Between Green and Gone via Bandcamp