Tammy Payne has been one of the finest soul and jazz singers that the UK has produced in the past two decades, and, sadly, she's also the one got away. Back in the early 90s she did an absolutely brilliant version of Deniece Williams' Free, where she hit the high notes with a soaring grace, then made an excellent single, Take Me Now, at the height of the Acid Jazz movement. And then she disappeared. The last time I was in her native Bristol I saw her drumming in a samba school. So this, Payne's debut album, a good two decades later than expected, is one of the most intriguing releases of the year, above all for the fact that it represents a relatively bold departure from the aforesaid work.
Where once was a 70s jazzy soul is now a 60s bluesy rock. This covers album features interpretations of well-known warhorses from Dylan, Cohen, Spector and Jacques Brel, yet it has a distinct echo of icons such as The Animals, The Zombies or The Doors, with all of the ashen, brooding tension they could ring from an organ-drums-bass-guitar combo, which is what Payne plumps for here. Indeed, if there is one emotion that dominates the set it is melancholy, if not anguish, and it is dramatised with the greatest creativity in a smartly controlled arrangement of Dolly Parton's Jolene that takes the jaunty vulnerability of the original into a haunted and haunting new sound world where Payne's voice plays off a creeping, suspenseful dirge. The use of a military snare beat, tapped out by Dylan Howe with real little drummer boy tenderness, increases the forlorn resonance of the piece as Payne reins in the considerable power of her voice to breathe new life into one pop's great laments.
Not every arrangement works as well, and on a few occasions Payne could use more of the sharp fortissimo tones that marked her earlier recordings. Yet this is a decidedly cultured piece of work from an artist whose talent has not been recognised. This should put her in a deservedly bigger spotlight.
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