Scottish vocalist Julia Fordham has had an impressive yet low-key career, producing sophisticated pop albums that blended contemporary pop with more traditional elements, resulting in songs that are warm and familiar and comforting from first listen. Not surprising, really; as a teenager, she had a fascination for both pop and jazz, which she parlayed into working in radio, performing in groups, and writing her own songs, and by the 1980s, she was working as a recording and touring backup singers for notables such as Mari Wilson and Kim Wilde.
Her debut album, Julia Fordham, was released in 1988, and stands as one of the better albums of the decade. While there may have been a trend at the time of “sophisti-pop,” Fordham rises above the posturing of many bands of the era, while sharing the same high quality abilities of those who transcended the label, including Basia, Sade, and Everything But The Girl. Fordham’s voice was instantly distinct; deep and powerful, yet controlled enough to handle more delicate material.
Jazz is the operative term for the music found here, but it’s so much more than that. “Happy Ever After,” the song which caught the attention of the major labels and landed her deal, goes from jazz into worldbeat, thanks to the potent African chanting provided by Afrodiziak, a British trio featuring a pre-Soul II Soul Caron Wheeler. “The Other Woman” and “My Lover’s Keeper,” sleek, slick rhythms predict and predate the coming of Massive Attack and trip-hop, while “Invisible War” and “Cocooned” are gorgeous, mellow piano pop ballads. There’s not a bum note in the lot of Julia Fordham, thankfully—making it a potent debut album from an impressive talent.
This deluxe edition offers up a handful of rarities that prove the album was no fluke. The b-sides from the era, “I Wish,” “Waiting For A Miracle,’ and “My Mistake” are as good as the rest of the album, cut for time but not for quality. The remixes offered are fine, and as they’re not radically different from the original versions, it goes to show that the people at Virgin Records knew that Fordham was a talent whose songs needed no superfluous dressing to make them better. But the real bonus here is the second disc; it contains six songs recorded live in her hometown of Glasgow that was released as a super-rare bonus EP and Japanese release. It’s an excellent set, though it would have been nice to have had the entire concert (licensing issues), and the seventh track, the otherwise unreleased “My Little Secret,” is a scrumptious little rarity. Furthermore, her voice is strong and powerful, setting her apart from many of her contemporaries in that she actually had the voice you heard on the record.
Julia Fordham is full of a promise that she would soon deliver. Fordham’s career would continue to sweep her upward both in terms of popularity and quality; the following year, she’d release the excellent Porcelain, which was followed by Swept (both reissued by Cherry Pop), and has since had a low-key but steady career, one befitting such a fine jazz singer.
Julia Fordham is available now via Cherry Pop