Jessica Lee Morgan: “Your Girl” – mixed by Morgan Visconti
“My mamma always said, ‘Keep your powder dry’,” sings Jessica Lee Morgan in “I Wanna Be Famous”, one of the standout tracks on her debut album, I Am Not. And she pretty much did as she was told for years. Which makes sense, considering mamma is Mary Hopkin, that fine singer with a healthy contempt for the more fatuous aspects of the music industry, whose advice would probably be worth its weight in gold to any young woman who thinks X Factor is the fast track to success.
As things turn out, it’s rather a pity Jessica kept us waiting to appreciate her vocal and song-writing talents for such a long time. As she explains on her web site, despite growing up steeped in music (dad is the legendary producer Tony Visconti) and writing her own songs since she was four, she spent the first part of her life rebelling – ultimately to no avail – against following in the parental footsteps. So this record has been a very long time in the gestation. And it’s full of good stuff that marks her out as an idiosyncratic force, capable of drawing on decades of musical influences to create songs that veer from plangent folk to the insistent beats of state-of-the-art electronica – exemplified by two contrasting versions of the tender “Your Girl”.
The songs on the album span her passage from teenaged belligerence – some of which, pleasingly, she retains throughout – to introspective 30-plus maturity. It is, like her mother’s well-received new record (You Look Familiar, co-written and produced with Jessica’s brother Morgan Visconti) a family affair. Mary comes through, pristine as ever, on several of the backing vocals, melding highly effectively with her daughter’s lower, more resonant timbre in a way that brings to mind the recent collaboration between Eliza Carthy and Norma Waterson. Tony and Morgan Visconti share arrangement, co-production and mixing duties. But Jessica, who also plays piano and guitar, is always in the driving seat.
Things kick off with a country-rock ballad, “Texas Angel”, setting the tone for the tales to come, full of crystal clear imagery, smooth-flowing harmonies and a very eloquent style. But just when you think you’ve got the measure of her, she shatters the mould and moves on to something completely different. There is a real lyrical edge to many of these tracks that repays the attentive listener. The sweetness and light is rarely what it seems.
“I Wanna Be Famous” is an acerbically ironic comment on the fast-track promises of celebrity culture, all the more effective because it has such an ear-worm of a riff and would fill the dance floor in a second, calling the listener’s double bluff. In a just world it would be a mega hit.
Morgan is at her best on these electronica-dusted tracks, her voice cutting the swirling, atmospheric, retro arrangements like a knife through fine butter. “Leave the Light On” is another multi-layered beauty, echoing and poignant in its hope that things will come right in the end. “Just A Song”, a riposte to somebody’s accusation that singing cover versions was a sell-out, knocks all the pretence out of the song writer’s art.
“Whatcha Do” has a distinct R&B feel – think Mariah Carey or Beyoncé without all that infernal melisma. And on “Here it All Comes Again”, a pull-yourself-together-and-go-and-get-it, guitar-driven ballad, co-written with Hopkin, Morgan reveals a tougher vocal sound at the eleventh hour. Talent will out. There’s no need to keep that powder dry any more.