Feinstein’s at the Nikko, San Francisco, CA, October 13, 2017
The faithful made their annual pilgrimage to Feinstein’s to see British singer-songwriter Julia Fordham who performed selections from her latest CD The Language of Love. With a remarkable body of work spanning over three decades, Fordham remains as relevant today as her first hit, 1988’s anti-apartheid “Happy Ever After”. With her smart, emotionally honest lyrics, multi-range voice and knack for writing hook driven melodies, Fordham is mesmerizing.
Backed by longtime collaborator Grant Mitchell on keys, Fordham opened with a quartet of hits; “Lock and Key”, Falling Forward”, “Girlfriend” and “Your Lovely Face”. Her operatic contralto was in perfect command, clear and agile when she quickly moves between registers. Accompanying herself on bells, shakers and of course the acoustic guitar, Fordham songs are beautifully composed, with the typical pop verse and choruses, but augmented by complex bridges that elevate her from pop diva to serious artistry not unlike Joni Mitchell.
Fordham does come from the golden age of female singer-songwriters; Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Janis Ian, Carly Simon, EmmyLou Harris and Kate Bush to name a few. Fordham reeled off hit after hit and continues to write new material, presenting two new tunes “The Morning After (A Night with You)” and the brand new, unrecorded “Angel Island”. The former is a heartbreak song, a woman not asked to stay after a night of lovemaking, the latter a historical look at Japanese picture brides arriving in San Francisco around the turn of the century.
I overheard Fordham telling a fan that her songs were “meant to break your heart and make you cry”, and indeed there is a longing, aching texture that drives many songs. “Girlfriend” is just such a tune; an old flame begging to be held by her former lover when she’s in distress. Her cover of 10CC’s “I’m Not in Love” is right in her emotional wheelhouse. The 13-year old Julia was awkwardly experiencing her first dance to this song when she internally was processing how incredible the music production was. Her career in music was established right there. “Eleanor Rigby” and Sting’s “Fragile”, two covers from The Language of Love CD allow Fordham to share her takes on modern classics.
The sold-out house listened in rapt attention to every note; Grant Mitchell’s lovely piano augmenting Julia’s melodic flows. She reached way back to her first self-titled CD for “Invisible War”, presented as a hope for a change in the US political climate and her “anti-Anthony Robbins” rosy picture mantras displayed in “Under the Rainbow”. By the encore of the 1992’s “Love Moves (In Mysterious Ways)”, the spell had been cast and everyone left totally moved in many ways by this very special artist. Fordham is a touchstone; she stands alone among the currently performing artists presenting a standard for others to aspire to. Her songs sink into your soul and stir deep emotions, which is the point of great art.