|Niamh McNally, SimonLittle, Sam Hawksley, Nina Ferro|
(Into the Light CD Launch. St James Studio, SW1. 1st November 2013. First night of two. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
Who likes a story with a genuinely happy ending? The sequence of events which has led to Nina Ferro's new album and to a joyous launch, is exactly that, but there is only one night left to catch it: tonight, Saturday.
Ferro and her extremely classy band are at St James Studio in the basement of the St James Theatre close by Victoria Station, just a few corgi-steps from Buckingham Palace.
Back to the story, are you sitting comfortably? Australian-born guitarist Sam Hawksley says he had admired Nina Ferro ever since he heard her hitting the high notes so perfectly as a regular breakfast singer on the TV show Good Morning Australia.
Eventually their paths were to cross - he is now based in Nashville, she in London - and earlier this year he made Ferro a simple if completely improbable invitation/suggestion:"Why don't you come here to Nashville and do an album?" She found more reasons - and presumably the cash too - to say yes rather than no, and in the sixteen days she spent there, she says, "you just get into an artistic vibe and you make it happen". The result is Into the Light, her first album since Waiting for the Sunset from 2008. The songs are mostly co-written with Hawksley. It was recorded as recently as mid-July this year.
The songs - with one exception, I'll come back to that - are of the kind to bring an instant smile to the face of the every member of the audience. They are hooky, they're catchy, and optimistic. What are they? Amazon has the album curiously classified as "Blues/Country" but there is also funk and soul in the mix. Each one just launches itself easefully into a groove, sunroof off, cruise control on. I wrote down Crusaders, I also wrote down Reba McIntyre. Take a lyric like "(Everything's gonna be all right) When I Find You," and you get the picture. Others are sassier - I enjoyed Plutonic Delirium, in which a man who has failed to pick up obvious signals that he had been assumed to be in a relationship gets his failings pointed out to him. Ferro did take the trouble to warn the audience in her chats between the songs that the dangers of dating a songwriter should be obvious. 'Saturn' gets rhymed with 'holding pattern', 'Lover' with 'Supernova'. It has a tricky push-pull ending - most of the songs depart with a fade, in every case perfectly executed by the band.
The exception among the songs is All in the Name of God a powerfully emotional condemnation of the degrading of women which happens in some non-Western societies. Its seriousness and focus caught the audience unaware - people seemed genuinely to be moved by it.
One of the joys of the evening is quite how tight,slick, professional, characterful, and punchy the band are. Pianist/ keyboardist Grant Windsor -another Australian expat alongside Ferro herself and Hawksley- was appearing earlier this week with Gregory Porter in the Albert Hall, and it felt a privilege to hear him on this smaller scale. His duet with drummer Tim Weller on the Ferro-Tom Cawley funk excursion Deals with the Devil was a highlight. Hawksley took every guitar solo well, always expressive rather than attention-craving. Bassist Simon Little was just on the money all evening.
All band members with the exception of Tim Weller were on duty as backing vocalists, but a constant unfailing delight of this live gig was the understanding, the telepathy, and the musical rapport between Nina Ferro and her backing singer, Ulster-born Niamh McNally. The two have worked together as fellow backing vocalists for Gilbert O Sullivan. They evidently get on well, and their vocal blending and support of each other, the instinctive matching of phrasing, timbre, was - I don't think it's overstating the case here - unsurpassable perfection. The McNally/Ferro duetting is a very good reason - but in reality just one reason among many- to get to this uplifting show on its second and only remaining night.