The cover of The Heart Wants, the new album by singer Jo Harrop, sees her sitting at a desk piled with literature, putting pen to paper. This seems appropriate, as the album is comprised primarily of self-penned tunes, which comes as a surprise after her breakthrough (Weathering The Storm, with guitarist Jamie McCredie), saw her interpret – with considerable style – the songs of others.
Better still, she proves herself to be a fine songwriter. The ideas took hold during the long months of lockdown. “I finally began to work on the album that I had longed to make for many years,” she explains. “Ideas that I had talked over with (producers) Hannah (Vasanth) and Jamie (McCredie) began to unfold, and emotions that I’d always pushed aside began to spill on the page.”
After the word-of-mouth success of her debut, which even drew praise from the likes of Iggy Pop, The Heart Wants is a bigger budget affair, with guest appearances from bassist Christian McBride and pianist Jason Rebello, to name but two of the many musicians who play on the record.
The title track opens the album, with Jo’s warm, rich voice delivering a heartfelt vocal. Hannah Vasanth plays piano on this track, and Christian McBride contributes his distinctive sound, which provides additional depth. There’s also some simmering, late-night trumpet from Andy Davies to enjoy.
Ellington’s All Too Soon – one of the few covers – is up next, and sees Jo ‘duet’ with McBride. There’s nowhere to hide as a singer, and she handles it with aplomb – one of the album’s many highlights.
Everything’s Changing and Life Inside are pop-jazz of the highest order, gorgeous songs that other artists will want to cover in the years ahead. The former sees Nicky Brown join on Hammond, an added strong section, and a lovely solo by Andy Davies. Life Inside is absolutely stunning, and includes a guest vocal by Marcus Bonfanti. One of my songs of the year, it’s that good.
The album’s first single Red Mary Janes And A Brand New Hat is as stylish as the title suggests, a real statement of intent, and co-written – over a glass of wine or two, I would imagine – with Hannah Vasanth and Natalie Williams.
Paul Edris contributes the wonderful Wise Words, which could easily pass for a Nina Simone tune, and co-writes two songs with Jo – What If and If I Knew – which sound like standards waiting to be discovered.
Rainbow Sleeves is a Rickie Lee Jones tune that was penned by her ex-lover, Tom Waits, and is given a delightful read here, accompanied by Jamie McCredie on guitar and Sarah Bowler on cello. The album closes with the soulful Weather The Storm, which demonstrates her versatility as a singer, and features a ‘choir’, that includes – amongst many others – Natalie Williams, Fiona Ross, Robin Phillips and Simone Craddock.
The Heart Wants is inevitably a more varied album than its predecessor, and demonstrates Jo’s range in a number of different settings, from simple duets through strings and choirs. But more than that, it sees her emerge as a songwriting talent in her own right. It was a courageous move, but one that has paid off in spades.