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Often, the term "timeless" only really functions in hindsight. But occasionally, something comes to the fore that transcends any concept of now, then, or otherwise.
One such example is the debut album for 29-year-old Manchester native Josephine Oniyama – or, for recording purposes, just plain Josephine. She manages the rare feat of creating something both novel and nostalgic, yet with an identity entirely its own.
A mere couple of bars into Portrait, and a pretty clear statement is delivered: the voice is very much the leader here, and everything else follows obediently. Vocally, Josephine is old beyond her years, possessing a rich, classical tone normally reserved for ancient, crackling vinyl. Even her cut-glass pronunciation has a peculiar Miss Jean Brodie quality to it, yet somehow offers a tender, inviting attribute concurrently.
The refined production builds around her, with playful folksiness and flecks of warm, accessible jazz. The subtle references to her West African heritage are pleasing too: the joyfully plonky percussion cheekily peeking out from under the neo-soul surface of Original Love, or the skeletal, breathy beats of I Think It Was Love. But for the most part, Manchester is a more palpable reference, the unaffected scent of northern soul permeating every note.
What A Day, in contrast, steps furthest from the niche Portrait works hard to carve, displaying an Amy Macdonald-style, demi-country twang. But it’s very much a one-off visit, and beyond that, it’s hard to hear anything other than Josephine on Josephine’s terms.
Tonally, it’s a leisurely, dignified collection, yet stretches to little over half an hour. That makes for an effective listen – where Portrait sets itself up to be a relaxing, protracted affair, the musical box melancholy of House of Mirrors provides a charming conclusion. And it doesn’t leave you feeling short-changed; rather, it piques curiosity for Josephine’s next chapter.
A pigeonhole-obsessed media will have a hard time finding any fitting sound-alikes in today’s market, and such a mature, elegant guise will have many scratching their heads. But by and large, that’s probably testament to what a unique prospect Josephine is.
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Top Customer Reviews
Josephine Oniyama is a singer/songwriter from Manchester who
seems to have burst into the listening world fully-formed with
her accomplished debut recording 'Portrait'. She has a simply
beautiful voice : calm, centered and completely unaffected.
The kind of voice which, in a curiously old-fashioned way, would
have sounded perfectly at home in any of the last five decades.
There are ten songs in the collection which demonstrate a deft
facility with both words and melody. An easy naturalness and
warmth permeates each and every one one them. The uncluttered
arrangements are a model of restrained musicality, the better
to support the gentle drama of her gorgeous vocal performances.
The soft drone and simple piano part of the folksy opening track
'When We Were Trespassers' is somewhat redolent of some of the late,
great David Ackles finest inventions. A song which frames the
perfect melancholy of Ms Oniyama's subtle vibrato and rich delivery.
A truly sublime creation and alone worth the price of the album.
Further joys include the string-infused, sixties-scented title track
'Portrait' (just loving the plaintive half-heard harmonica part!);
the spare and somewhat bluesy minor-key number 'I Think It Was Love',
which sports a wonderfully moody and affecting vocal; 'Pepper Shaker',
a fidgety upbeat number which finds Ms Oniyama flexing her muscles and
delivering an impressively powerful turn and the lovely final track
'House Of Mirrors' whose lilting waltz-time rhythm and delightful tune
would not have sounded out of place in a Stephen Sondheim musical.
Whatever you do don't let this very special album pass you by.
My favourite track? Only by a whisker I'd say "Last Minute". The other 9 songs, while different styles are equally as strong but there's something about "Last Minute" that makes my spine tingle. Every time I hear it.
Josephine deserves to be as big as Adele. I've owned this album for a little over a year now, and it rates as one of my all time favourites. I've been buying music since 1971 and have a large collection. Portrait has now become one of my Top Ten favourite albums of all time.
Congratulations and thanks for an album that couldn't be any better, I'm really looking forward to the next one. Would love to see her live too.
If this is just the beginning of her career then we are very lucky to be able to experience what is to come.
Highly, highly recommended to anyone who loves great music.
On the evidence of this outing, Josephine is the best UK singer I have heard in a very long time. It doesn't get much better than this. I cannot wait to hear her sing at a live performance.
The standard of songwriting and production isn't far behind. Although this is definitely an album that is better than the sum of its parts, every song is worthy of inclusion; there are no fillers here.
What does the album sound like? Think of a vocalist with the clarity and precision of Dusty Springfield, crossed with the earthiness and soul of Shara Nelson (Massive Attack, Unfinished Sympathy), fronting The Smiths. Unique, and very, very good.
It's just the icing on the cake that Mike was her art teacher in high school. It's not often that you get to see someone with such talent grow from young woman to polished performer. Delighted doesn't even begin to describe it.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
How did this not become a huge seller? So much talent, such a great voice.Published 9 months ago by D Crossley
Wonderful voice. Didn't know of her and only purchased as it was on offer.Published 10 months ago by Sas
A beautifully produced album with an eclectic mix of songs. A tad short at only 33 minutes but it’s more about quality than quantity. Read morePublished 16 months ago by DPL62
This is a gem. I've rated it as four rather than five as a couple of the tracks are fillers, but most of them are wonderful - simple and beautiful harmonies and a bittersweet voice... Read morePublished on 31 Jan. 2014 by Barry Bootle