Sunday, March 22, 2015

Jo Harman & Company - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 20 March 2015

Jo Harman doesn’t just take to the stage – she takes the stage.  Not having seen her live before, I was well prepared for a great singer, but her overall performance comes as a pleasant surprise.  Right from the start she is a commanding, full on presence – aided and abetted, perhaps, by the fact that most of her band are as titchy as she is herself.  But whatever they lack in stature, they make up for in quality, providing Harman with a platform from which she can shine.
And shine she does, demonstrating her vocal talents in a range of styles, from the delicate ballads like ‘(This Is My) Amnesty’ that are almost her trademark, sung with feeling and subtlety; to the Motown-ish soul vibe of ‘When We Were Young’, decorated by smooth harmonies from the band; and the up-tempo, driving ‘Through The Night’, on which she lets herself go during the towering climax powered by Stevie Watts’ keys.
Jo Harman gets down and gets with it at the Voodoo Rooms
Indeed one reason Harman remains a focal point throughout is that she visibly enjoys the contributions from her band members, interacting with them well on ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’, even if she slightly over-eggs the ending.  ‘Cold Heart’ though, which she rightly describes as the centrepiece of her debut album, beautifully balances fragility with passion.
Harman has to call a sudden halt during the intro of ‘Bless My Soul’, when she spots an audience member collapsing at the front of the stage.  The room is cleared while the punter gets medical attention, and thankfully comes round.  Naturally, it’s an awkward moment, but after the enforced hiatus she and the band regroup, guitarist Nat Martin leading the way with a big solo on ‘Sideways’.
A driving final segment includes the excellent ‘Underneath The River’, and a cover of Free’s ‘Ride With A Pony’ as a tribute to the late Andy Fraser, which Harman claims the band learned on the long drive to Edinburgh that day.  And there’s still time for her to cement her soul credentials with an encore of the Isley Brothers’ ‘Work To Do’.  It’s an impressive display all round, with the new songs and covers showing a broadening repertoire at her disposal.
Plaudits too to Perthshire support band Wang Dang Delta, an engaging bunch of greybeards who demonstrate a well-honed groove on a set of their material, with a bluesified version of Christy Moore’s ‘Ride On’ as a pleasing added bonus.  The interplay of guitar, keyboards and harmonica is smooth as silk, with deft touches of funk and swing.  And you can only applaud a rocking tribute to the A9 entitled ‘Ca-ca-ca-ca-ca-ca-caravenette’.

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