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Tina Harrod - Worksongs

Having firmly established herself as one of Australia's premier soul singers, Tina Harrod ran a risk in turning to jazzier material. She could have joined the long list of almosts and abject failures.

There's a crucial difference between Harrod and most of her want-to-be peers, however: she pours herself - every inch, sinew and synapse - into the songs, so the words throb with commitment rather than shuddering with pretence.

'Round Midnight" was the big test. The apotheosis of the jazz ballad, it leaves nowhere to hide, so any singer failing to fully grapple with its genius and potency is left floundering. Harrod gives you goose-bumps. It's like she's singing about the last night of life, stretching vowels for telling timbral effect, and sometimes letting her voice crack like a mirror held up to the soul.

This, her second album, begins with a much less convincing performance on Stevie Wonder's "Big Brother", despite exceptional playing from her band of pianist Matt McMahon, bassist Jonathan Zwartz and drummer Hamish Stuart.

The real work begins with the ensuing "Comes Love", when she shows she can not only emote and be sassy at the same time, but that she also knows how to drape the phrasing over the pulse so there is no sense of gravity. Some singers never get that. Then she springs a surprise with Nick Drake's sad, dreamy, enigmatic "River Man".

The original acoustic guitar and strings give way to a rolling drum figure played with mallets, which is widened by the bass, and then flecked with piano, while Harrod lilts across the top. It's a superb change of mood, a process continued when she digs into the bluesy glissandos of "Feelin' Good", a piece, like the rollicking "CC Rider", straight from her comfort zone. Two tunes from her first album (co-written with the late Jackie Orszaczky) are revisited for more naked readings, and the intensity glows with a blue flame on "I Loves You, Porgy", revealing the true beauty of her contralto when she lets the tone billow on a held note.

On "Glory Box" she effortlessly combines her beefier side with an affecting vulnerability, underpinned by huge, growling bass notes. That vulnerability leaps out again on the timeless "Don't Explain", and Harrod doesn't need to.

She can do this. She's one of the few.

John Shand SMH

Tina Harrod - Worksongs 


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