Jarrod Lawson @ Shepherds Bush Empire, 14th November 2015

Lawson-453x407The vacuum left by North London genius Lewis Taylor‘s virtual disappearance from the music scene has left space for various young blue-eyed soulsters (Bo Saris, Allen Stone, Mayer Hawthorne, The Stepkids et al), but Jarrod Lawson has surely emerged as the pick of the bunch. His assured, ambitious and well-received 2014 debut album announced a major new talent, and this London Jazz Festival gig turned out to be quite an emotional night.

Lawson’s vocals were typically superb – he’s one of those rare people who is just incapable of singing a bum note. A dead ringer for David Bowie circa 1995, he imbued all the material with genuine soul, just one night after the latest atrocities in Paris, becoming visibly overcome with emotion once or twice.  It was a pleasure to hear a set of soul music very rarely dependent on bass vamps or backbeats, focusing instead on interesting harmonies, non-repetitive song structures and intricate vocal arrangements. Drummer Joshua Corry was a big part of that with his admirably-light touch, though sometimes the gig felt a bit one-paced; just occasionally you wanted the band to lay into a more hefty groove, and there was definitely space for another solo instrument apart from piano and guitar.

Lawson’s richly-chorded cover of Lewis Taylor’s ‘Right’ very cleverly decoded the original and made its tantalising harmony a little more explicit. But it was his acoustic duets with backing vocalist Tahirah Memory that were possibly the highlights of the evening. He channelled Howard Hewett on an epic ‘Do You Feel The Same?’, while Memory showcased a beautifully unadorned style, reminiscent of Deborah Bond, and demonstrated some real songwriting potential for the future though possibly ‘over-shared’ with the audience at times.

The whole set brought to mind those great old-school London soul nights from the late ’80s and early ’90s, not to mention Lewis Taylor’s fabled Hanover Grand show in 2000. The world could use a little more tolerance and unity right now, and Lawson’s message in the music couldn’t have come at a better time.

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