9 by 7 – Jo Bartlett – a writewyattuk review

jo_album1On first hearing Jo Bartlett’s 9 by 7, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. Only it’s a bit of an enigma. But like the best puzzles, it’s worth the effort decoding.

You see, it has the mark of a greatest hits collection, yet it’s a ‘best of’ containing tracks that either haven’t been hits yet or should have been first time around but somehow weren’t.

It’s not all Jo on this ‘solo’ recording either, these nine songs written and produced by this talented singer-songwriter but featuring seven guest musicians too. Hence the title.

Those guests include former Bluetrain compadre Richard Handyside for one, adding some nice electric guitar touches.

That perhaps sums up the finished product – Jo’s past and present influences proudly worn on the sleeve in a CV displaying some of her finer moments from the last 15 years.

The six tracks I recognise seem to have been given a fresh makeover, one that definitely works yet was arguably never needed in the first place.

Opening track Dying Kiss, released as a single in late November, is a prime example, a mellow, almost trip-hop version of a wondrous track that first appeared on Jo’s second collaboration with hubby Danny Hagan under their It’s Jo and Danny flag.

On 2001’s Thugs Lounge it was a winner for these ears, but never got the attention it deserved and later returned in a different format on the duo’s fourth album, four years later.

And here it is again, further tweaked but again to great effect with the help of programming from Aaron Gilbert, of Fat Boy Slim, Pendulum and Depeche Mode fame.

dyingkissIt’s all the more ambient, but that serves to highlight further the quality hook, and it’s hopefully about to finally get the attention it deserves.

Four of the tracks here first came our way on last year’s Highway Found EP, starting with Measure of the Storm, its underlying riff reminiscent of a slowed-down Caterpillar by The Cure. That’s not the last time I mention Bobby Smith’s boys either.

Furthermore, the way Jo sings ‘can’t catch the next one’ takes me back to the awesome Harriet Wheeler and my old favourites The Sundays.

Then there’s Rising to the Bait, its Lloyd Cole and The Commotions guitar intro again sign-posting Jo’s proven indie roots.

That wouldn’t be enough though, and like its bedfellows this is a song that builds and gets in your head the more you listen.

In fact, both tracks seem better presented in this album setting, as if they rise to the bait of the competition around them, adding something of a documentary soundtrack feel.

For this ‘80s and ‘90s indie fan there are hints of a few other revered artists in places, The Go-Betweens occasionally springing to mind here and there.

There’s a Nick Drake element too, as you might expect from someone who co-founded the Green Man Festival and was at the forefront of the Freak Folk scene before forming psychedelic instrumental quartet The Yellow Moon Band.

Driven Away is another song I loved from Thugs Lounge, released as a single back then, one possibly as neglected as the fine album it represented.

I love the static-wrapped indie grunge that sparred with Jo’s sweet vocal and the Celtic pipework on the original, and because of that I shouldn’t even entertain this version.

But again Jo creates her own ground zero remix, folktronic elements adding new layers which somehow work to a tee.

I might still prefer the more-shouty original, but this laid-back early hours alternative gives us fresh perspective.

Multi Tasking: Jo lets loose at the keyboard, live (Photo: Jo Bartlett)

Multi Tasking: Jo lets loose at the keyboard, live (Photo: Jo Bartlett)

Then comes Highway Found, one of my top five tunes from the year just gone, which one reviewer (okay, it was me) called ‘gorgeously but lightly layered, the subtle strings giving a wistful feel that brings to mind Catch by The Cure’. Reckon he’s right too.

Furthermore, it remains as aurally pleasing (missus) as it did when I first gave it a spin. Wistful, dreamy, part-melancholic, part-pensive, but super-sweet.

Pretty soon, some hip American TV series or film will pick up on it, and this song will be huge. Quite right too. A hit in the waiting.

Olympic is new to me, and like many of It’s Jo and Danny’s instrumental moments works perfectly. It’s more than a filler too, like some of those binding moments on Paul Weller’s 22 Dreams or perhaps Nick Drake’s Bryter Later.

It starts off like a cross between Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill and The Wolfhounds’ Lost But Happy, then ups its pace, like an early ’80s Inter City train ad jingle being covered by the Transatlantic Sessions house band.

What Do You Say To That? is another newie, Jo’s dream-like vocal and the initial competing guitar riff – taking me back to the Farmer’s Boys, incidentally – merging with synth bass and taking on hints of Colourbox or St Etienne maybe.

Then we get the deftly-powerful Advent, its stirring chorus bringing to mind the vocal stylings of Aimee Mann, Cerys Matthews and even Sheryl Crow in places, further showcasing Jo’s crossover potential.

Like Highway Found, maybe Ellie Goulding will have a hit with it. Just a suggestion. We’ll let everyone know we loved the original first though.

And as with the other tracks from the Highway Found EP, closing track Suitable Drama sits just right here, its folk undertones perpetuating as the song gathers momentum.

Training Days: Richard Handyside was also involved with Bluetrain's last incarnation (Photo: Jo Bartlett)

Training Days: Richard Handyside was also involved with Bluetrain’s last incarnation (Photo: Jo Bartlett)

What starts as a bass-led strum is complemented by those strings again (arranged by Mike Siddell, whose previous clients include Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons) and in time underpinned by Waterboys-style guitar and those strings. Yep – Drake again.

It’s perfect exit music too, whether you‘re picturing a long distance car journey or even a little island hopping by ferry. A transport of delight.

Come to think of it, Jo is our pilot here, expertly negotiating the hazardous channels between guitar-driven pop and more experimental fare throughout this fine record.

9 by 7 by Jo Bartlett is available on Strike Back Records (Cat. No. SBR210D) and will be released on January 12th, 2015.

For more details about to get a copy, keep up to date with Jo’s musical projects and follow links to downloads and all that, check out her Fringe on Top website.

And if per chance you missed my epic chat and feature with Ms Bartlett in July 2014, there’s a link to be found here.

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About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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One Response to 9 by 7 – Jo Bartlett – a writewyattuk review

  1. Pingback: Kodiak Island –The Golden Section (Musical Bear Records, 2016) | writewyattuk

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