Josephine Oniyama – or just Josephine, professionally – is a 30 year old Mancunian singer/songwriter and her debut album is a stunner. From the opener, When We Were Trespassers, I was hooked. I love the title track, Original Love and I Think It Was Love. I love so many of the songs on this album, just 34 minutes long, the jazz voicings of the classic Joan Armatrading material mingle with hints of a life spent absorbing so many things from Dusty Springfield (What A Day) to Richie Havens (A Freak A) to torch and jazz singers; folk, rock, soul, blues, pop.
The voice is the first thing that pulled me in – but these are strong songs and the production is lovely too; spot on, tunes framed by the gentle glide of piano, occasionally caressed by strings – with space for jaunty percussion and guitar to dictate on the very Armatrading-like zig-zag of Pepper Shaker; imagine King Sunny Ade’s band taming a jam down into a pop song with a vague bossa-nova shape.
There’s so much in this short album, it’s perfectly paced – amazing and intriguing to hear an artist arrive in such a way: seemingly fully formed.
I’m not sure why this isn’t getting the gushing praise that Michael Kiwanuka received – to me this is a far better record with a lot more happening on it, in it – and suggestions of so much more to come. It’s a debut album that wows in the way that some autobiographical first novels arrive and all but knock you off your feet. There’s so much of Josephine in this portrait/Portrait – childhood memories, traces of her West African heritage, there’s conviction, strength, depth – there’s a pride in these songs.
And the closer, House of Mirrors (featuring Ed Harcourt on piano) reminds of the gorgeous material Joni Mitchell offered in the 1990s across Night Ride Home, Turbulent Indigo and Taming The Tiger. A very underrated period for Joni, but quite astonishing to hear a 30 year old hint at that gravitas already – and with the debut album too.
I’m hooked on this record. I’m a little bit in love with it.
I’ve found a new favourite. That’s always a nice feeling.