Contrary to what televised talent shows might tediously suggest, there really isn’t a great voice waiting to be found on every high street. Sure, the throw-everything-at-a-wall approach works occasionally – nobody can deny that Leona Lewis is a brilliant singer, albeit one without an album worthy of her talent – but the scrapheap of public-voted flops continues to grow. Indeed, it’s now in danger of blocking out any future stars due their time to shine.
Rumer – born in Pakistan but introduced to folk (and, presumably, soul) music when her family moved to Hampshire – is a great voice who’s done things the old-fashioned way. Shunning the bright lights of prime-time exposure (believe me, she could win any such show), she developed her songs over a lengthy period of time, working menial jobs to make ends meet. Now, deservedly, her breakthrough has come. More improbably, her producer here is Steve Brown, who appeared on the Alan Partridge-helmed Knowing Me Knowing You series. Brown’s an award-winning composer, though, and his touch guides several of these songs to a finished state where graceful melodies barely mask emotions far weightier than those typically associated with pop newcomers.
Comparisons to Karen Carpenter and Laura Nyro have been made in the past, and rightly so – Rumer’s voice, bruised but unbowed, soft but sturdy, is hugely evocative of those vocalists. But there are plenty of contemporary parallels to be drawn, too. Healer’s skeletal arrangement, topped by cautious lyrics of uncertain love, is reminiscent of New York singer-songwriter Nina Nastasia. It gets a little over-egged, its endearing slightness sidelined by expansion, but nevertheless it’s a great number. The ghostly backing vocals on Blackbird and On My Way Home lend the impression of a group rather than an individual, stirring thoughts of soon-to-return Georgia dream-pop duo Azure Ray.
Everything sounds as if it’s written from experience, rather than by a team looking to tick the on-trend boxes of whatever commercial quarter they’re in. Which is perhaps why it succeeds where Leona, Burke et al have consistently failed: this is an album to embrace warmly, not a collection of tracks that the listener feels only a cold, media-manipulated connection with.
Slow, the single that introduced Rumer to the public, hangs itself around a core lyric of a familiarity that can’t quite be placed. And that’s a feeling that Seasons of My Soul arouses during its 11 tracks – a sense that these motifs have been heard before, but precisely where isn’t clear. It lacks originality, then, but Rumer’s debut is an immediately engaging, gently engrossing set. It wears its cracked heart on a neatly stitched sleeve of the most luxurious fabric, strong and elegant despite the hardships that sit of the centre of every song.
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