Artist: Graham J. Album: Cry Genre: Vocal Jazz, Adult Pop Origin: Ireland Released: 2019 Quality: mp3, 320 kbps Tracklist:
Cry Me a River
Never, Never, Never
Fly Me to the Moon
Bei Mir Bist Du Schön
Both Sides Now
You Don’t Know What Love Is
You’d Be So Nice
The Folks Who Live on the Hill
The Look of Love
A Case of You
The Other Woman
Here’s to Life
Graham J. has been hailed as the vanguard of cabaret noir – a new genre of music blending jazz, blues opera and adult pop with dark subjects, sung with emotional intensity.
His contralto voice and emotive singing have earned him international following and press plaudits. He has performed at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on Broadway in New York City, headlined the Gay Pride Festival in Sitges and performed at Pizza Express in Holborn. Graham J. is set to perform this March at the Pheasantry, London with his Cabaret Noir Orchestra.
His new album Cry is a collection of standards adopted and re-created to provide a platform for Graham J.’s expressive alto voice. Some tracks were recorded live at an intimate late night show at Ocean House in County Cork, Ireland.
“I’ve always loved singing the standards,” Graham J. says. “Many hours were and still are whiled away listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, Julie London and Kurt Elling. Chet Baker and Little Jimmy Scott are also regularly featured on my playlists. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s something as simple as they sing in keys that suit my voice. Maybe it’s because they sing songs that find a way to speak to my soul.
“There always seems to be a song for whatever mood or moment I’m having in life,” he adds. “It could just be the fact that I love the freedom of expression I’ve found as a jazz torch singer. I can twist and shape the melody to suit my interpretation. Interpretation and freedom of expression are the key to performing for me. There is something so raw and basic in the material that it speaks directly to my soul. A cri de coeur as it were.”
Cry opens with Arthur Hamilton’s “Cry Me a River,” and nothing quite prepares you for the vocal entry after the introduction. Pure and tonal, the effect is mesmerizing: Think Alison Moyet meets Jimmy Somerville. The emotion is intense, angry and beautifully captured. Graham J. demonstrates one of the huge benefits of the male alto voice by dipping down to his chest notes for emphasis. Stunning.
“I recorded ‘Cry Me a River’ the morning after my most recent relationship had ended,” he says. “As you can hear from the song, it didn’t end on good terms. I left my partner’s home and went straight to the studio. People who’ve listened to it have told me it’s a very angry interpretation. I had more than a few singers compare my opening notes to those of Shirley Bassey. Do I not wish?”
It seems appropriate then that the next track is “Never Never Never,” a huge hit for Shirley Bassey, but Graham J. takes it and makes it his own by introducing little twinkles and plays on the hypnotic rhythm. He smartly switches emotions when he sings “Love you, hate you,” with the “love” delivered warmly, the “hate” with vehemence. Bart Howard’s “Fly Me to the Moon” is given a rhythm update and quite a lot of changes: Graham J. introduces an almost bop scat-styled section with Latin overtones and a happy, upbeat boo-wap section. There is a walking, happy little rhythm right the way through, and the lovely places where he soars into alto and back into chest offer contrast, yet the perkiness continues.
Then there is a chordal entry into “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon,” a song earlier sung by the Andrew Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, Bette Midler and others. Here is a quirky version: Graham J. makes you feel like you are strolling down a Parisian street in the war, looking for a gullible fella to seduce. It’s supplemented with a beautiful and evocative clarinet line playing underneath from Ciaran Wilde in the second third, too. What more could you ask for from a feel good number like this?
Piano and violin introduce Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” before Graham J. gives it his own interpretation, slightly dodgy lower notes notwithstanding. Unusual, different and with a slight air of a matinee performance about it, this is entrancing – and more so with each listen. The string quartet of Catherine Humphreys and Denice Doyle on violins, Karen Dervan on viola, and Aoife Dennedy on cello is featured on this gorgeous working of a well-known song.
A live recording of Don Rae and Gene De Paul’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is” is warmly caressed with love and delivered to the listener in a sweet, acoustically mellow box, underpinned with some wonderfully placed piano chords from Pawel Grudzien (the Casimir Connection). The song is played in such a way that they leave space for the voice to be heard clearly as it swoops from falsetto to sitting across his break note. (Graham J. has a low break note, giving him a huge range in his contralto voice). Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” is modern, mellifluous, backed by soaring strings and the Ear to Ear mini concert orchestra led by Alan Smale, and includes a soprano sax solo from Cairan Wilde.
This is followed by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s ‘The Folk Who Live on the Hill,” made famous by Peggy Lee. Given the Graham J. treatment, it is rather gorgeous on the ear and underpinned by empathetic piano from Pawel Grudzien. Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Look of Love” is introduced by guitar and percussion from Kevin Murphy and Paul Murphy respectively. It’s is a trio number of vocals, guitar and percussion, which works magically.
“A Case of You,” another Joni Mitchell song, follows and it’s an enticing duet between piano and voice. Graham J. explores his sumptuous voice with huge effect, interpreting the emotional lyrics profoundly. His top notes on this number are impressive. Jessie Mae Robinson’s “The Other Woman” is interesting and here Graham dips from deep, sonorous chest voice, up into alto and back again, adding choral progressions and scale links along the way, creating more than a simple delivery of this classic number. The final track on Cry is a live recording of Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary “Here’s to Life,” and it’s a brave inclusion considering it became Shirley Horn’s trademark number. Again, however, Graham J. manages to make it different and owns the song in this performance.
What is striking is the clarity of the lyrics and the emotion Graham J. pours into his delivery of every number. The sense here is that any imperfect note placements are the result of the throat tightening due to emotions rather than musical imperfections, and overall his vocal quality is superb.
“For me, this style of singing is liberating,” he says. “It really is about expressing your inner life. Your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Something I really felt was lacking in my life as a classical singer. When I’m on stage, I can give everything of myself to my listener to help them forget their problems for a few hours. It lets them know that there are other people feeling the same way. Which is so important in an age where we feel such a disconnect from one another.”
He brings to the swelling upper notes a gorgeous, male essence which at times supersedes expectations – even if you have heard the original recordings. There is, throughout Cry, a musicality which many singers aim for. Graham J. interacts with the arrangements, at times interpreting the lyrics in such a way that he provides an additional instrumental quality. This is an album of surprises, one which hits you both aurally and emotionally. Cry is a joy to listen to. by Sammy Stein