★★★★½ A fine set of almost exclusively original material.
February 20, 2016
Having witnessed Jo Lawry’s talents as a backing singer briefly in the Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, I was keen to get a taste of her as a solo artist. Although she has only recorded a handful of albums, Lawry has established a reputation as a singer-songwriter of substance and judging by her fine set of almost exclusively original material at the Spiegeltent, deserves a place in the spotlight.
The first three songs (Choose Between the Bottom and the Sea, Jenny Kissed Me and I Said No) where Lawry played acoustic guitar supported by Ben Todd (percussion), Chris Hale (acoustic bass) and husband Will Vinson (keyboard and soprano saxophone) were all exceptional compositions. Indeed, the jazz progressions and unusual guitar tunings reminded me of Joni Mitchell at her more innovative. Also Mitchell-like were Lawry’s confessional first-person lyrics, particularly in I Said No, a truthful break-up song that may yet be a hit for a big name who can give it the profile it craves.
Switching to the piano, Lawry skirted the borders of jazz and rock with a more bitter breakup song (Ready, Aim, Fire) that allowed Vinson to spread his improvisational wings on sax before softening up again with the ballad Taking Pictures, a lament for the narcissistic culture where recording yourself in life’s moments is more important than living it. Of course, the chanteuse had to mention the boss, “the best gig in the world” noting that she had progressed from singing backup for Peter Combe at the age of 12 to the big time which was a segue to Impossible, a number that she and Sting have performed together.
Lawry then gave us a joyous flashback to her days studying jazz at the Elder Conservatorium with her own arrangement of the Hank Mobley classic Remember, complete with some impressive scatting before another break-up original Please Don’t Think I Didn’t Love You. You might have to be a local to appreciate it, but I loved her love letter to the best city in the country (Adelaide) followed by her thank-you note to her husband on their first anniversary, So Far So Good. A friend described Lawry as “that girl from Adelaide in Sting’s band who sings better than he does”. I have to agree.