Live review: Nicola Hardman double single launch
Date: Friday 13th October 2017
Venue: Studio 2, Parr Street
Support: Rachael Jean Harris, Vanessa Murray
Reviewer: Derek King, Liverpool Acoustic
On hearing the first few acoustic chords from Rachael Jean Harris, her delicate and precise jazz-like progressions, you are at once transported back to Joni Mitchell’s mid-1970’s Hissing of Summer Lawns phase. But when you hear Harris’s soaring vocal it is evident that she is so much more than a Joni Mitchell mimic (though she would surely not deny her roots). Her songs are beguiling and break all the rules it seems, the structures are hard to pin down and her vocal phrases meander captivatingly, constantly wandering where they seem really to have no right to go. Many acoustic guitar based singer-songwriters’ vocals follow their guitar chord progressions, but Harris seems to turn this idea on its head, and you find yourself wondering how the acoustic guitar can possibly match that vocal. But of course she is so proficient at what she does that the guitar and vocal dovetail perfectly and the effect is as seamless as it is enchanting.
Vanessa Murray has deservedly become a firm Liverpool Acoustic favourite in recent years and is guaranteed to charm audiences wherever she plays. Tonight’s crowd was no different; folk immediately warmed to her most affable style and there was an almost palpable feeling of being drawn into Murray’s very earnest and sincere, though often light-hearted tales. In between each of her well-polished songs Murray effortlessly develops a repartee with her audience and gets everyone on side. Her song structures might bear the freshness and exuberance of youth, and there may be a certain youthful naïveté to her lyrics (making those of us who are a few years older reminisce about what it was like to be 20-ish!) but conversely there is also a sense of accomplished skill and maturity in Murray’s art. She can be confident about what she does because she knows that it works, and she certainly knows how to do it exceedingly well – ask any audience.
Fans of Nicola Hardman continue to be awestruck by this most gifted and versatile of artists, not just a most accomplished songwriter and an outstanding singer and instrumentalist, but also an extraordinarily arresting performer too. Excellent and wonderfully impressive though it undoubtedly is, her 2015 album, Full Beans, served as a mere prelude to what was to come tonight on her double single launch. Taking us through an impressive array of old and new songs Hardman effortlessly switched between styles, one minute enthralling her audience with a gorgeous and soulful piano ballad, the next moment unleashing the considerable power of her vocal range in a rock song. As if that weren’t enough she would then introduce a bizarre touch of theatre….!
On Full Beans, Hardman performs many of the tracks with a full band and, while this provides depth to her skilfully constructed songs, on some of the rockier tracks her exquisite piano work and normally powerful vocal are sometimes a little drowned out by the wailing electric guitars, which is a real shame on such a good album (but I am being overly-picky here). However, when you see and hear her perform electric guitar led tracks from the album like Waste and Not Enough with just her piano for accompaniment, you find you don’t miss the band at all. The punchy syncopations and staccato rhythms of bass and drums that feature in Hardman’s music are expertly dealt with by the constant guttural murmur of her low end piano accompaniment, while the guitar licks are effortlessly reproduced with her right hand on the higher registers. She threw a surprising cover into the mix too – Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain. How do you play The Chain without a bass guitar? Well, Nicola Harman was confident enough to joke about that just before she pounded out that well known bass melody in octaves with her left hand on piano.
With her two singles Just Human and Little Fish, Hardman seems to break some new and unexpected ground – if that is even possible for an artist this versatile. Just Human features her by now trademark intense and swirling (even menacing) low end piano accompaniment while her plaintive and mournful vocal drifts into some fairly dark social commentary. It is a wonderfully evocative and topical song, with plenty to say about being just human. Little Fish, which also features on Full Beans, is on the other hand a much more fun track, and here we are introduced to Harman at her mischievous best. The song’s style is theatrical, even burlesque, and it happily twists and wiggles along on an old-fashioned waltz rhythm (with which Hardman delights in taking unspeakable liberties) like some ethereal ballet. Utter madness, but utterly enthralling!
In conclusion I could not recommend Nicola Hardman’s Full Beans album and her two singles Little Fish and Just Human highly enough. Get ‘em and enjoy! And if you get the chance to see her play live, do it!
Review © 2017 Derek King, Liverpool Acoustic
Nicola’s music is available to buy on iTunes
Facebook – facebook.com/nicolahardmanmusic
Twitter – twitter.com/Nicola_Hardman
Originally from the London area, Derek has lived in Liverpool now for over 25 years. Over the years Derek has played in various bands before more recently finding his niche as a solo singer-songwriter and he has released two solo albums. A regular performer around Liverpool's acoustic music scene, Derek is also an enthusiastic promoter of local music and co-hosts regular events with Liverpool Acoustic.
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