Category Archives: New Music

Thomas Spencer’s Journey

The Journey is the second album from classical crossover artist Thomas Spencer and has been a long time in the making and reflects his desire to find his own voice in the crossover world.  I spoke to Thomas last week about the album and about his own personal journey through the world of music.

Thomas hails from a Derbyshire village and after music A level, decided to study acting in London.  A change of heart though saw him enrol for voice training at Trinity College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music before going onto a post graduate musical theatre course.  The logical outcome of all this was to work in musical theatre but when Thomas found that he was losing out to singers and actors with a bigger profile, his response was to try a different approach and began recording an album in his London flat with his musician / composer brother, Oliver.  Credere was the end product and the brothers quickly decided that they wanted to record another, using mostly their own material.  It’s unusual for classical crossover artists to record known material and although The Journey does contain this, the majority is (mainly Oliver’s) original compositions.  Of this choice, Thomas says “we wanted to find our own voice, our own material, our own style of music”.

The result is a unique sounding album that lulls you into thinking you know where this musical journey is going to take you; it’s only when you’re a few songs into the album that you realise this is not taking you in the expected direction at all which for me, is great.  There is something for everyone on this album, whether new to classical crossover or not although, as we know from Alfie Boe, there’s only two kinds of music, good and bad; part of what makes good music good is the unexpected (and goodness knows Alfie Boe in particular is nothing if not unpredictable) and it’s the original songs on this album that stand out.

The Journey is released on 23 June and this is a super busy time for Thomas as he is also coming to the end of a multi date project with choirs around the country.  Beginning in the middle of May, Thomas has been travelling the length and breadth of the country working and performing with community choirs.  Whether singing solos or as part of the tenor section, singing his own music or teaching and participating in workshops, Thomas says that “no two choirs sessions have been the same, each night is unique with differing abilities, ages, sizes…it’s nice to be kept on my toes”.  Most of the choirs have their own repertoire and Thomas gave a wry chuckle when he said that Bring Him Home and other Les Mis songs seemed to be perennial favourites with choirs – I expect he’s sung that a fair few times over the last few weeks.  Having said that, Thomas has also sung Gilbert and Sullivan and other musical theatre songs in the course of this tour and even learnt some Welsh folk songs courtesy of a week with Welsh male voice choirs.

When asked why a community choir tour, Thomas answered that “having sung in choirs all my life I felt it was a good way to get involved in community and to spend time talking about and performing music.  I’ve been lucky enough to train at some good places and it’s great to be able to share some vocal technique, biology of the voice and what I do before performing”.   Nearly all the songs on The Journey lend themselves to choral adaptations so it would be interesting to see if any of the choirs Thomas has worked with add any to their repertoire.

The Journey is available here:

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Will Barratt: Confessions of A Justified Sinner

Will Barratt has been performing in London’s West End (Jersey Boys, Phantom, War of the Worlds, Producers) for a while now but he became someone to look out for amongst Alfie Boe fans when he understudied Alfie’s Billy Bigelow in ENO’s Carousel; he literally took over from Alfie half way through a show after Alfie came down with an ear infection.  Two more shows the next day followed, both to rave reviews. I interviewed Will after the end of the five week run and although he was quick to point out he had no expectation of performing the role, in the event that he did, said that “it was good to get on for a couple of shows together, like a preview and opening night in two shows”.  Additionally, Will said that although Alfie was sad to have to miss the show, he was “so pleased that I got on – he was dead happy for me”.  If you want to hear Will singing the soliloquy, click here for a pre-show talk and performance at ENO (soliloquy starts at 23m).

As Will’s only role in the production was to understudy Billy, I was keen to find out about the creative process and rehearsal period; how much was he involved?  It turns out that both Will and Molly Lynch, who understudied Katherine Jenkins as Julie, were as fully involved as Alfie and Katherine from day one.  Whoever plays the part, the blocking and direction is the same, it’s the thought processes of the actor that differs.  Will says that “Alfie, Katherine, Molly and I, we all got on, we worked through stuff together…Alfie was also going through the process of figuring out the role, he didn’t know what it was on day one either.  We were all doing it together”.

Now, you might be wondering about the headline of this piece – Confessions of a Justified Sinner.  This is the title of Will’s self penned debut album, released in 2015 and showcases his seemingly effortless talent for singing, playing multiple instruments and song writing.  Of the songs themselves, Will says that “all the songs on this album contain bits of me, my life, history, wants and needs, aches and pains, ups and downs…they are my confessions”.  He leaves it up to us as to whether he is a justified sinner or not!

Being self penned, this album is not what you might expect from a musical theatre performer – there are a few songs that wouldn’t be out of place in a musical but on the whole, the songs are a mix of upbeat, rockier, pop and jazz with a hint of Americana that really get you up and out of your seat.  To me, a great song is one that you instantly sing along to or you can’t sit still to and both the opening track, Give Me Some Time and Demon, towards the end, had me up and dancing straight away.  These two songs, together with Fearless (below), a beautiful ballad and the almost Buble-esque Never Thought, are my favourite songs.  Interestingly, Give Me Some Time and Never Thought are songs originally written when Will was at school, just reworked and rearranged to give a more sophisticated sound.

Will’s fabulous voice handles all these styles with great versatility and is a joy to listen to.

Confessions of a Justified Sinner is available here:

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John Owen-Jones Brings It Home

Recently returned from Cape Town where he created the role of John Crichton-Stuart in the new musical Tiger Bay, a role written especially for him no less, John Owen-Jones tomorrow releases a compilation album, Bring Him Home.  A mix of musical theatre songs taken from three previous albums,  John Owen-Jones (2009, Unmasked (2012) and Rise (2015), there are also three new tracks to delight fans: Maria, Why God Why and Suddenly.  In addition to this, John is soon to embark on a short solo tour of Wales – click here for dates and venues.  All in all, with Tiger Bay moving to Cardiff in November and a trip stateside in September, 2017 is shaping up to be a busy year for John.

Given his super busy schedule, it was a delight to catch up with John over coffee this week to talk about the new album although of course, you’ll forgive us if we strayed onto all things Les Mis.  Like Alfie, it was through Les Mis that I first became aware of John – the Valjean Quartet at the 25th concert to be precise.  Talking about that incredible moment where Alfie first starts singing, John says that “being in the room when we first rehearsed that and everyone’s hair was blow off when Alfie hit that top note”.  Lovely to hear that the other Valjean’s thought that as it’s the same for most of us too.  As for Alfie, Les Mis is the show in which John first rose to prominence; at 26 he was the youngest actor to play Valjean.  He says of this time on Broadway that “I was very lucky at 26 that I had the chance to play Jean Valjean and I grabbed it with both hands”.   Since then he has returned to the role several times, most recently on Broadway again and for a short run in Dubai and doesn’t rule out another stint in the future “if the opportunity is there again, why not?”

Of the three new tracks on Bring Him Home, one is related to Les Mis and that is Suddenly, the song that was added to the movie version and as yet, has not been recorded by many people.  As such, it sounds fresh and exciting which is no mean feat for a song from a thirty year old musical that everyone is familiar with.  In understated style, John calls the song ” a nice little tune” and it fits in perfectly with the theme of this album which draws heavily on John’s roles with both Les Mis and Phantom, both of which are huge in Japan.  John has played several sell out shows there and in once concert last year, John says that the audience refused to leave the auditorium until he came back for a further encore – the musical director came back on stage without shoes and socks!

As for the other new tracks, Maria was chosen as West Side Story was the first show in which John was ever on stage and is a song he’s always wanted to record as a result.  Apparently it took him this long to actually do it because his mum’s not keen on the song but “she can skip that one”.  Great choice of song – despite there being many versions of this song out there, John’s acting ability enables him to bring an emotional depth that is not always heard.  Similarly personal, Why God Why from Miss Saigon was the song John performed at his audition for drama school and is a song that he has performed live for a long time.

As mentioned earlier, next week sees John embark on a short solo tour of Wales and he says that the set list will consist of mainly musical theatre songs with one or two others in the mix as well.  A number of local choirs will be joining John, not to mention Rhys Meirion in Rhyl and other guest artists.  Sounds fantastic!

Bring Him Home is released on Sain Records on 9 June and is available here:

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Kolars: One More Thrill

In the twenty first century you might be forgiven for thinking that there’s no such thing as new sounds in music; after all, haven’t we already invented everything?  In most cases the answer might be yes but having listened to US band Kolars, it’s clear that the future of music innovation is well and truly kicking.  Their eponymous debut album, released this week, is a riot of genre defying songs that embrace country, guitar led Americana, glam rock, blues and folk music to name but a few.  Throw in new wave and punk and you start to see why the band (husband and wife Rob Kolar and Lauren Brown) describe their music with terms such as glam-a-billy, space blues and desert disco.  I spoke to them via skype last week and Lauren described this musical journey as “the way music is going in general – there are more genres and sub genres now, mixing genres to create new ones”.

The album is a product of Rob and Lauren coming together as a duo after the demise of their previous band, He’s My Brother She’s My Sister and as already mentioned, represents many different genres derived from numerous and somewhat eclectic musical influences.  I asked both about their musical influences and Rob in particular, as the writer, named just about every type of music since the 1950’s – and what he didn’t, Lauren did.  As a writer, Rob says he is influenced by a lot of UK music as well as blues and this is reflected in the construction of the songs on the album.  Upon first listen, the album is clearly innovative musically but strip that away and the songs are well constructed that would work perfectly well as acoustic tracks.  The opening track, One More Thrill, exemplifies this – and look out for fabulous drumming from Lauren:

Rob says about the origins of One More Thrill, “it started out on acoustic guitar and then turned into a kind of Springsteen anthem and then new wave and punk elements were added.  I learnt to be open to all genres of music and not be pigeon holed”.  I can definitely say that this album cannot be pigeon holed!

Taken as a whole, all the songs have a strong percussive element which is to be expected with one half of the band having such a distinctive drumming style – when asked about the music she didn’t like, Lauren’s answers were all related to artists with “awful drum sounds”.  Additionally, catchy hooks mean that you’ll be hearing the songs for days afterwards.  The glam rock influences are apparent too and it’s no surprise to learn that Rob’s favourite period musically turns out to be “glam rock, T Rex, Bowie, it includes pop, great hooks and then you’ve got the androgyny, fun fashion, great drum sounds”.  A couple of the songs have definite Bowie moments but with this album, just when you think you’ve got a handle on the music, the tracks take a sharp turn into something totally different. This album challenges you musically whilst remaining very listenable.

Kolars is available here:

Catch Kolars at their remaining live dates – click here.

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What’s Inside World Autism Awareness Week

Autism – most of us have heard of autism and a fair amount of us probably think we know what is meant by the term autism, but do we?  There are a huge range of issues faced by people with autism and one of the problems causing difficulty is a lack of understanding amongst the wider public which is where World Autism Awareness Week (WAAW) comes in.  Brought into being by the National Autistic Society (NAS) to highlight World Autism Awareness Day on 2 April, WAAW, which runs 27 March – 2 April 2017, aims to further raise awareness and understanding in public attitudes.

This year, the charity is being helped with it’s annual campaign by up and coming music duo The Beautiful Secret, whose new single, What’s Inside, is the anthem for World Autism Awareness Week:

Released tomorrow, the song shows ‘what’s inside’ Katie-Rae, shown in the video.  Katie’s aunt, Rachael Hawnt, is one half of The Beautiful Secret (alongside Ashley Cutler) and after hearing Katie say that “no one ever listens to me”, wrote What’s Inside in response.  Rachael said about Katie-Rae, “she has autism and learning difficulties and had many fears and phobias from the get-go. She has struggled with social situations and depression all of her life, but she is still a strong and loving person with a fantastic artistic flare and a big, big heart.  We wanted to write a song to help raise funds and awareness for autistic people. The first person I went to talk to was Katie-Rae; I told her I wanted to write about the way she felt, a real perspective from a real autistic child.”

The fundraising and awareness aspect of teaming up with the National Autistic Society came later and is something that Katie-Rae herself feels very proud of. Speaking this week, Katie said “I’m not brave enough to get the word out there myself so my aunt is doing it for me…it makes me happy that it’s going to help people”.

Highlighting understanding is the key to both this song and this year’s World Autism Awareness Week and Katie-Rae’s own words encapsulate perfectly the issues she and many other autistic people face on a daily basis.  Speaking about school, Katie told me that

No one cared how we felt, people thought we were crazy.  We’re not crazy, we’re just different.  People didn’t really understand, even the teachers, until Miss Young helped us explain to the other teachers how we feel and how we think.

The fundraising head of NAS, Kate Donohue, agreed that “very often, young autistic people felt that no one ever listened to them”, which is why the song is so powerful.  To have Katie-Rae appearing in a video highlights just how powerful the song is – and also shows how brave this young lady is, despite what she thinks.

What’s Inside, by The Beautiful Secret, supporting the National Autistic Society is available here:

All proceeds go to NAS.

Click here to find out more about the fundraising and awareness work of the National Autistic Society.

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Coffee and Music = Success

One of the difficulties in being an unsigned artist is how to gain exposure for your music and reach new audiences.  The beauty of independent musicians is that you can make the music you want but the catch is that you then have to do all the promotion yourself.  Therefore, musicians and their managers are always looking for new ways to reach out and sell the music.

In the last ten years, one such way is to become a Caffe Nero Artist of the Month or to be listed for the monthly playlist.  Artists are also invited to play live in a selection of Caffe Nero locations and I recently spoke to Mark Sullivan, who is currently criss crossing the country in a camper van (musicians have such a glamorous life), on the Caffe Nero tour.  Sullivan has been a musician for a long time and I asked him why this touring approach was important and he said “I knew I wanted to get on the tour as it’s a really good way of reaching an audience…it pushes me as an artist to connect with people in such an intimate setting”.

In order to be considered for the tour and playlist, artists need to have produced music that is available on properly mastered CDs (mp3 tracks are automatically rejected) and although Sullivan was in a good place, musically, after winning the soloist category of the 2015 Rock the House competition, his EP wasn’t ready for release until now.  Recorded in the USA with acclaimed producer Steve Greenwell, the three track EP entitled Still Good For Nothing (the title comes from a line from the second track, Bird At Night) showcases Sullivan’s warm vocals and classic, guitar led pop.  In particular, Warm Your Bones is a lovely song to listen to and eminently catchy, while the video is just pure romance:

I love a music video that tells a story!

Although Sullivan has a lot of material written in preparation for more recording, in addition to this three track EP he has just three more ready to release and he hopes to do this later in 2017 / early 2018.  The question of EP versus album then brings us neatly back to why Sullivan wanted to tour with Caffe Nero.  As Sullivan says “although I have enough material for an album, I don’t have enough reach and so I need to build an audience and raise my profile before releasing an album”.  Playing and selling his own music in venues around the country, renowned for supporting unsigned artists, is designed to help accomplish both those aims.

As for Caffe Nero themselves, supporting up and coming artists is something that enables them to have new and interesting music on their playlists each month; live music is the icing on the cake although exposure to customers via the wi-fi login would also be a factor in getting the music heard. Ultimately, though, it’s the live music that helps gives musicians the impetus and profile to become more successful – Jack Savoretti was the first to play these tours and he’s done quite well since!

Mark Sullivan’s EP, Still Good For Nothing is available here:

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Kate Dimbleby: Songbirds

This week I’m bringing you more new music, again from Angry Baby Music.  Kate Dimbleby’s sixth album is called Songbirds and despite being the sixth, is the first she truly considers to have her own voice.  Here’s what Angry Baby had to say about it:

Songbirds is the product of a life explored. From London to Vancouver Island, from riverside benches to forests and hilltops and from break-up to intimacy to self-revelation, Kate’s journeys spill out into lyrics that entice and surprise. Backed by her own voice, looped and layered into technical masterpieces, Kate’s work pretends to be simple, but isn’t. Accessing Americana, blues, jazz, spiritual and folk, Kate redefines her influences through courage sprinkled with genius. Her approach to music has a postmodern twist, as she leaves “room for people to interact by stepping into the space where the instruments would normally be”. The result is an album deserving of the label “groundbreaking”, brought to life via her partnership with producer Lauren Deakin Davies and label boss Helen Meissner.

Ever felt the need to find yourself? Limbo locates the moment where change is inevitable, yet slow to arrive. This is an intensely personal reflection which, for Kate, was triggered by her first real heartbreak. She explains “I sat on a bench by the river in Hammersmith thinking this is a really horrible feeling – this kind of emptiness…I need to move it by singing about it”. Out of that moment of despair came Kate’s first song.

From heartbreak comes joy, so track two reminds us that Love Can Be Easy. Born in a moment of simple pleasure with her daughter, which caused Kate to ponder “why do we never sing about the quiet moments?”, we’re transported to the spaces in life where nothing is happening but contentment. If only we could bottle it, but, as the song says “when we see it clearly, then we’re no longer there”.

Many songs have tried to capture the spirit of happiness, none less than Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Listening to the playful expression in Kate’s Happy, it’s no surprise to find that she had previously worked with the man himself. Kate takes joy to a whole new dimension. Spontaneous and childlike, this is a track to put a smile on your face. Listen at least once a day for maximum benefit.


Describing At Our Best as a “silly marching hymn”, Kate is in danger of undermining her own genius. Blending country/gospel/spiritual vibes with on-point harmonies, this is 1 minute 6 seconds of anthemic perfection. Yes, we could march along, but we’d best be marching for something worthwhile. Let’s hope this little gem finds its cause.
Revealing a softly nurturing side to Kate’s songwriting, Whatever is the story of unconditional support that everyone needs in their life…“When this world seems overcrowded but friendship feels too hard to find…I’ll never be too far behind”. Supported by a jazz of doo-wop, and ending with a snippet of studio chat and a giggle, this track has personality by the bucketload. Love this live performance:

Many can sing the blues, but not many can write a strong, traditional blues refrain. In These Things, They Will Come, Kate reveals her blues credentials. The track, Kate confesses, runs very deep for her, founded in her personal experience of physical pain and psychological displacement. Reminiscent of Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem A Change Is Gonna Come, Kate wrote it as a personal reassurance that there’s a world of support to be found. But with the end strangely unresolved, listeners are left suspended in a space for their own interpretation.

In an era of instant gratification, the patience required of intimacy can be hard to achieve. Walk Away acknowledges the choice to leave while celebrating the prize to be won if we stay. With effortless vocal control and chorally-precise harmonies, Kate transports us to a hilltop where the song came to her “all in one go, pretty much as recorded”. Sometimes these things are a gift.

Closing the album, Song For A Hill is a quirky, carnivalesque confection, combining captured sound with electronica. Calling to mind automata and strains of Hushabye Mountain, Kate creates a delicious waltz through traditional toyboxes, distant streets and stormy days. A tiny soundscape to hold in your hand and enjoy.
Disruptive and contemporary, Songbirds introduces interpretation that shakes off familiarity and define the edge of a new genre. Kate’s determination to find her own voice – which can’t be easy, given the heritage that attaches to her name – has found fertile ground in the all-female, all-nurturing team that has assembled around her.

What a great review from Angry Baby – click here to get your FREE track from Songbirds.

Songbirds is available here:

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Albert Man: Nothing of Nothing Much

Cast your minds back to the summer of 2016 and thoughtsofjustafan’s summer playlist, for which I teamed up with Flo at Angry Baby.  One of the featured artists was Albert Man; fast forward to February 2017 and Man has a new EP, Nothing of Nothing Much.  Through a series of serendipitous events, I was lucky enough to attend the launch show for the new EP at a hub of London’s live independent music scenes, St. Pancras Old Church, Kings Cross.  This venue looks and sounds beautiful and is the perfect setting for an intimate gig – next time though I hope it’s summer as it was absolutely freezing!  You know it’s cold when not only most of the audience but also half the support act keep their coats on throughout.

The best thing about hearing independent musicians perform live is the wealth of live performance experience they have. Touring their music is often the best and sometimes only way to get their music heard and produces a well honed sound that usually manages to sound raw and authentic at the same time. Luckily, Albert Man was not an exception to this rule, playing a set comprised of songs from his previous album, Cheap Suit, and the new EP, with David Bowie and an as yet unreleased song thrown in.

The highlights were Diamond in the Rough, a co-write with one of the supporting acts, Joe Garvey, and You Had Me At Hello. Angry Baby Music recently reviewed Nothing of Nothing Much and says of Diamond in the Rough

What do we miss when we’re looking for perfection? Taking a philosophical turn, Diamond In The Rough questions the value of love vs money, when plenty of the former can’t seem to compensate for a lack of the latter. Showcasing the bitterly poignant side to Albert’s vocals, the track builds from the simplest scaffolding of story-telling, leaving recollection space for the listener’s own experience.

Given that this was a co-write with Joe Garvey, who also played on the EP and was a support act, I would have liked to see him join Man on stage for this song. However, it was still a stonking song. You Had Me At Hello featured Louize Carroll on vocals and she also features on the live version (recorded in Dublin last year) of the song that comes as a bonus track on the EP. Angry Baby’s review says

Opening with tinkling chords and introducing Collette Williams’s delicate vocal harmonies, You Had Me At Hello is a testimony to love at first sight. With a classical/country crossover flavour, beautifully supported by Sarah Lynch’s violin (previously heard with Mumford and Sons, Ed Sheeran and The Strokes, to name a few), this is a reflection on the million little things that make relationships last – right from the first hello. If you’re looking for a song to dance to at your golden wedding anniversary, this could well be it.

Click here to read the rest of Angry Baby’s review and to get a FREE Cheap Suit track. This is one of the songs from Nothing of Nothing Much, Riding Shotgun:

Man will be playing more live gigs in the near future, check out where here.

Man had two support acts, Craig Gallagher and the aforementioned Joe Garvey.  Gallagher’s guitar led ballads had the crowd singing along while Garvey, as the second act on stage was a joy from beginning to end; funk, jazz, pop and rock sizzled from the band and ensured that the crowd was pumping for the main event.  Garvey was nominated in the Unsigned Music Awards 2016 and is surely someone to watch for the future.

Nothing of Nothing Much is available here:

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Another Fabulous Christmas Album!

Sometimes you wait a while to review a really good Christmas album and sometimes two come along together.  A couple of weeks ago I told you about Gareth Malone’s Great British Christmas album and now I’d like to share Angry Baby’s review of Prayer to a Snowflake from Mary-Jess.

At this time of year, it’s easy to write off music as tacky or overly-sentimental, especially when the shops are blasting out Slade and Chris de Burgh as though there’s been nothing new since the 70s. Thankfully, in Prayer To A Snowflake, UK-based classical-crossover artist Mary-Jess has released an album that cuts through the cynicism and provides a perfect selection of seasonal songs. Whether you’re looking for something to play when the in-laws come round for turkey, or a playlist for romantic evenings in front of the fire when all the crazy-madness is over, this could be the top choice for the holidays.

Mary-Jess catapulted to international attention when she won a singing competition live on Chinese TV, in front of 70 million people. Her popularity in China continues, which is why her website blends text in English and Mandarin. Back at home, she is known to TV viewers as the voice of the theme to Downton Abbey. That’s quite a CV, but behind it all is a crystal-clear voice, perfect phrasing and deliciously emotional delivery. Add to that the writing skills and musicianship to create seasonal songs which sit comfortably alongside traditional standards on this album, and there can be no doubt that Mary-Jess’s success is well earned and well deserved.

Opening with two traditional carols, Prayer To A Snowflake ticks the box as something to please the vicar. Silent Night may have been done a million times, but Mary-Jess tingles the spine with her precise soprano, produced with the acoustics of a vaulted chapel. Similarly stripped-back and simple, In The Bleak Midwinter warms the heart. Grab a cup of hot chocolate and gather the little ones around to create the holiday memories we all crave.

I Fell In Love With A Snowman provides a theme-song for falling in love this year. Softly reminiscent of fun in the snow, this track will have everyone wrapping up warm and pulling their significant other out to play like kids. Hold On To Me continues the romantic theme, joining Mary-Jess’s charmingly engaging vocals in musical-theatre-ballad style with Jaden Cornelious’s rich tenor.

Opening with acoustic guitar, In December reveals Mary-Jess’s country style. A consummate story-teller through her song, Mary-Jess paints vivid mind-pictures of winter people “…wearing crimson and evergreen” and pain “I see you in the dark, all bruised and broken”. The story-telling continues as When Summer Comes creates a soundscape of loneliness. Exploring the relatable experience of break-up at holiday time, “I’m finding it hard to sleep alone, Table for one all on my own” Mary-Jess reaches out to anyone facing the festive season newly-single.  If you want to add this to your collection, Angry Baby and Mary-Jess are giving a free download of this song as an extra special Christmas present – just click here to get your free music.

Inserted between these tracks, the story of Christmas is told through the eyes of the biblical Mary, from magnificence and submission in The Angel Gabriel, to fear and and confusion in the classical-pop ballad Breath of Heaven. Simple arrangements support Mary-Jess’s vocals – controlled and exquisitely expressive – every note perfectly placed.

Rhydian is one of the X-Factor’s success stories. Breaking the mould of the popular artist with his classical style when he appeared in 2007, he strides across the boundaries of pop, classical and musical theatre, maintaining the integrity of his own sound. Performing a duet with Rhydian is likely to expose the weakness in any partner, so it’s a testament to Mary-Jess’s technique and talent that their voices blend effortlessly throughout The Sound Of Christmas . This is no trick of a clever producer; each singer maintains a refreshingly natural range and pitch within the mix, providing beautifully blended harmonies that beg to be heard in live performance.

Quirkily titled, closing track Prayer To A Snowflake brings something fresh to the seasonal catalogue. Easily the stand-out piece of a stand-out album, Mary-Jess’s juxtaposition of Chinese musicality and classical European vocals creates an addictively melodic offering. This deserves to become a seasonal standard.


A Great British Christmas Album

It’s December and for what seems like weeks now all the shops have been playing Christmas music – by this time, you’re either totally fed up or thoroughly enjoying every shopping trip.  Either way, odds are that at some point, you’ll find yourself singing along with the majority of songs you hear, from familiarity if nothing else.  Let’s face it, Christmas is a time of year when we look back and reminisce and for most of us, Christmas songs play a huge part in our festive memories.  Interestingly, despite the numbers of Christmas albums released each year, it’s the much loved songs of yesteryear that still mean the most.  Nostalgia plays a big part in this but might it also be a national reluctance to move away from the sounds we know and love?  If the latter is the case, then the new Christmas album from Gareth Malone might well reverse the trend and become a future Christmas classic.

Choirmaster extraordinaire Malone is releasing his first Christmas album on 2 December which aims to bring an essential British sound to the festive music scene.  The album, A Great British Christmas, is a mix of traditional and new which concentrates, unsurprisingly, on voices. Along with a number of community and school choirs, Malone’s own professional choir features on almost all tracks, with the exception of Only You – this features just the voice of Malone himself, albeit layered to form a one man choir.  Although as a nation we have listened to Malone teaching countless people to sing, we haven’t really heard his own voice before, something that is remedied on two songs, the other being an original composition, Restless.

Christmas albums don’t usually lend themselves to new music, perhaps because as alluded to earlier, tradition is everything at this time of year and nostalgia reigns.  However, A Great British Christmas features, in addition to Restless, a new song written by Malone and Kaiser Chiefs front man Ricky Wilson.  Paradise Street isn’t actually very festive but fits in perfectly to a Christmas album as it instantly calls to mind the magnificent Fairy Tale of New York that has been a Christmas staple since Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues took it to number one.  Wilson is of course an extremely talented wordsmith and his bittersweet lyrics combine effortlessly with the melody to take the listener on a musical journey; for me, Paradise Street is the stand out track.

A Great British Christmas features several traditional carols, of which O Come All Ye Faithful is the (appropriately enough) most faithful interpretation; Silent Night is the carol I favour most, not only because it has a beautiful arrangement but it’s still my favourite Christmas carol of all time.  As a regular member of a congregation with a large number of children in attendance, I’m quite used to hearing new carols and one such has been included on this album.  In fact, A Child Is Born was Malone’s very first composition and with its traditional arrangement makes an excellent addition to the already full band of Christmas carols.

Of the remainder of the tracks, Keeping The Dream Alive is the best, not least because it had me up dancing along although A Spaceman Came Travelling is also great.  I wasn’t taken with the Frozen song but then again I think I’m the only parent who’s never seen the film.  Overall, Malone’s first Christmas album is a delight with something for everyone – Christmas albums can usually be divided into two camps: those that have a Christian feel and those that don’t.  It seems entirely fitting that an album celebrating a British take on Christmas should firmly plant itself in the middle of those two camps and successfully embrace them both.  At the end of a turbulent year, this album is just what we need for Christmas.

A Great British Christmas is available here:


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