Brit-based singer/songwriter, Melissa James first began singing seriously while at university, influenced by the likes of Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone and the writings of Joni Mitchell.
Acquiring a vocal coach who teamed her with composer and jazz pianist, Ross Lorraine, the two embarked on writing for the Joe Leach-produced project here, which has been some three years in gestation.
With just two exceptions – Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’, previously recorded by (among others) two of Melissa’s inspirations, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, and Eric Bibbs’ ‘Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down’, offered up in, indeed, spirited fashion with a slight gospel feel – the James/Lorraine team penned the varied selection of songs, each one enhanced by Melissa’s strong and soulful vocals.
It’s the slow-funk of ‘Don’t You Keep Yourself Down’ that opens the whole by way of just a strumming bass support before organ and brass come in and the whole thing goes along nicely until James Pusey’s guitar work takes a rather too rock- slanted approach. (No matter, it’s the only time on the whole album where I want to adversely criticise the musicial support, which comes from a coterie of ten players.)
There’s a gentle feel to much of the set which so complements the lady, whether by way of the toe-tapping, pop-slanted, horn and percussion-backed ‘Little Caged Bird’, the floating ‘Do You Remember When’, the lilting ‘Long Road Travelled’ or ‘Day Dawns’, the title track, where Nick Ramm’s piano is also much to the fore. Further effective piano work can be found on the perky, ‘Sing’, where Kevin Leo joins Melissa in front of the mic, while finger-clicks and Larry Bartley’s upright bass are the only background to ‘You Make Me Feel Good’.
A trio of delicious downtempo items comes in the shape of the ballad, ‘I Need You Here’, with an atmospheric organ break and with Kevin Leo returning to help (on background vocals); on the tenderoonie, ‘I Miss You’, the musical support strengthens two minutes in and the vocals build over an ever-increasing backdrop, while ‘Precious Time’ contains sympathetic guitar adding to the whole thing.
This most auspicious debut concludes with ‘Have A Good Day’, a sunny – as befits the lyrics – fun song with sax and piano to the fore. It should be noted that the set is not officially released until June 25. In the meantime, Melissa is doing some gigs as a pre-launch and you can, of course, get your advance orders in for the CD.
David Cole – In The Basement, May 2012