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Interviewed by Neil Spencer
Flame haired, extravagantly dressed, outrageously voiced, and with an inborn sense of drama, Sarah Jane Morris is a diva for our times.
One hesitates to use the 'D' word at all these days, so casually is it applied to female disco singers who struggle to articulate a lyric or hold a melody. Sarah Jane Morris, however, has always had a voice that can excite shivers of passion and delight, that can bend notes, dance with descants, and tease fresh messages from old songs. Soaring, swooping, sensual and sophisticated, this voice is more than a style, it's a force of nature.
Most musicians hate to be typecast, preferring to let their art speak for itself, but Sarah Jane has always shown a particularly gleeful disregard for the boundaries between genres. Jazz, soul, Latin, pop, contemporary, classical; she's taken them all in her stride.
A glance at Sarah Jane's numerous collaborations over the years is enough to show the scope of her interests and abilities. In the last decade she's wailed Brecht with big band The Happy End, purred top ten pop with The Communards, and whooped avant-garde ideas with composer Steve Martland. There have been sambas with Matt Bianco, jam sessions with The Jazz Renegades, and gothic fantasies with Peter Hammill.
As a solo artiste Sarah Jane has likewise stayed hard to pin down. Her 1989 debut album was a sumptuous mix of standards and her songs. Its piquant version of Billy Paul's Me and Mrs. Jones suggestive enough to get frozen out of radio playlists remains justly celebrated. A couple of years later, another soul classic, Barry White's Never Gonna Give You Up gave her a massive hit in Italy, Spain, Greece and Japan.
By comparison, Sarah Jane Morris has been neglected in her homeland, though she's revered by fellow professionals and her work continues to pop up in unexpected places. Recently it's become an item on TV drama, with her theme for BBC's The Men's Room followed by two of her songs appearing in ITV's gritty detective series Cracker.
The one consistent factor in these assorted enterprises remains that astonishing voice and its ability to excite audiences and fellow musicians alike. With its three and a half octave range, Sarah Jane's voice can soar heaven wards or dive into the emotional depths. For once, the oft-bandied description of a singer's voice being an instrument rings perfectly true.
Recorded live at Ronnie Scott's club in London in the summer of 1994, this new album is a showcase for Sarah Jane's thrilling vocals and her genre-defying style. Numbers by Sting, Tom Waits and Sade all fall easily under her spell, and even a number as individual as Jimi Hendrix's Up From The Skies is subtly transformed into a personal statement. Paul Weller's Leaves Around The Door sounds like it was written expressly for her as indeed it was.
Sarah Jane's own compositions shine too, especially the coolly romantic Love Me Like You Used To. Then there's My Day Will Come, a title that is surely about to be proven a prophecy. Torch song, soul standard or smoky blues, the message remains constant; human passion with a dazzling voice.
-- Neil Spencer, The Observer
Sarah Jane Morris at the Stereo Society (selected links):
To Sarah Jane's home page (all links)
To the full text of Sarah Jane Morris' interview
To the Hippodrome EFG London Jazz Festival gig review
To the Union Chapel, London, gig review
To audio clips from Sarah Jane's interview
To Sarah Jane's recent photo gallery
To Sarah Jane's History photo gallery
Jane Morris external:
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