Vocalist Esther Bennett, once again alongside producer Terence Collie, has recorded a new album that explores her home town of Birmingham. Home Is Where The Art Is expresses her affection for the area through music, poetry, and spoken word. Alongside this are some individual and quirky interpretations of a few well-known jazz standards delivered in Esther’s own unique style.
‘My Birmingham’ is a spoken word piece that tells you all you really need to know about what inspired this album.
I became fascinated by the musical history of Birmingham and of The Bullring Shopping Centre built in the 1960s (now demolished and replaced), the architecture of the 1970s and the grimness of the 1980s. What particularly interested me is how the sounds of the factories, the metal works, the steam hammers, the market traders and music of the immigrant workers informed a sound that is intrinsically the ‘Sound of Birmingham’.
The track is honest, humorous and full of memories of growing up in Britain’s second city. The musical accompaniment is subtle, pulsing and matches in an understated way the mood of Esther’s spoken words (see the video at the end of this post).
‘Lush Life Medley’ combines the writing talents of Bill Strayhorn (‘Lush Life’) and Amy Winehouse (‘Love Is A Losing Game’) and is sung with poignancy, fragility, and emotion. The first part of the tune is sung with a slight crack in the voice that I found very affective and as the number progressed the vocal became stronger as if becoming accepting of the idea that love really is a losing game. Excellent piano playing from Terence Collie with great use of the space between the notes emphasising the reflective quality of the tune.
John Haeny & Richard Torrance wrote ‘Rio De Janeiro Blue’ with its slow Bossa Nova beat. This tune features Duncan Lamont Jr. on flute and he plays with an elegant style that perfectly matches the tone of the number. Everything on this tune is sung and played in a relaxed, laid-back style but with good tonal variation to keep the listener engaged. ‘Suppose’ is a poetic interlude written by Esther’s mother Dorothy with a light musical accompaniment written by Didier Messidoro. The piece is short and heartfelt and delivered with a softly spoken reverence.
Dorothy Bennett’s poetry also features in the next track ‘Mother’s Yorkshire’. This describes her mother’s love of her birthplace and childhood home of Yorkshire and is delivered with clear diction by Esther with a wonderful soundscape backing that evokes the moors of this beautiful county. ‘The Blissful Fool’ “was a conscious effort to turn any romantic song into a clinical, biological and scientific explanation of what occurs in the brain when one falls in love (or lust?)”. Esther also says that she tried to emulate the singer Cecile McLorin Salvant in lyrical style and approach, something I think she manages but in her own, unmistakably Esther Bennett way: a fun, quirky number that put a smile on my face.
‘The Maintenance Fitter’ was written in tribute to Esther’s father in his last week of palliative care. This is another spoken word composition and it is as beautifully honest and emotional about the end of life as one can be. Some may find this track a difficult listen but it did stir memories and I could not help but empathize with the following words written by Esther:
Apart from the roller coaster of emotions and poignancy of the situation which was enveloped in a deep and overwhelming sense of love and respect, I was struck by the awareness of how the human body is a working machine and that once one major organ (or “component”) breaks down, then the rest follow.
Home Is Where The Art Is ends with ‘You Go To My Head’, a tune written by J. Fred Coots. It is good to finish on a upbeat Bossa number, particularly one that includes the wonderful flute playing Duncan Lamont Jr. – Terence Collie on keys also shows why Esther likes to work with him. Apparently, Esther often ends her gigs with this number: a positive note in all ways on which to finish.
Esther Bennett delivers her music her way and even when influenced by the manner of others (Cecile McLorin Salvant for example) it is not a pastiche. Home Is Where The Art Is is a personal journey through memories of place and people and I am delighted that Esther has chosen to share those memories with those who care to listen. ‘My Birmingham’ will be released as a single in the first week of 2023 and I think deserves to do well, as should this album!
Musicians: Esther Bennett – vocals; Terence Collie – piano, synth & percussion (Tracks 2, 3, 6 & 8) Duncan Lamont Jr. – flutes (Tracks 3 & 8)
Didier Messidoro – musical composer (Tracks 1, 4, 5 & 7)
All tracks mixed & produced by Terence Collie.
Tracklist: 1. My Birmingham. 2. Lush Life Melody. 3. Rio De Janeiro Blue. 4. Suppose. 5. Mother’s Yorkshire 6. The Blissful Fool. 7. The Maintenance Fitter. 8. You Go To My Head.
Home Is Where The Art Is is released on 33 Jazz Records and can be purchased through Bandcamp.