Here’s a late blast of summer. A collection of bright, guitar-driven pop songs – self-penned, with a handful of faithful covers thrown in – from London-based Liverpudlian Jo Birchall.
A veteran of the first series of Pop Idol, Birchall is blessed with a fine, confident voice and a well-stocked songwriter’s tool chest. Signed to Gary Barlow’s production company in the wake of Pop Idol exposure, she made an album for Decca, which was promptly shelved when the record company restructured. Meanwhile, Barlow, who continued to be a champion of her work, became preoccupied with the revival of Take That, and Birchall’s career was interrupted by family illness and personal loss.
But if the last five years have been a bit of a roller-coaster, she’s very much back in the ascendant following Barlow’s advice to get into the driving seat. Something to Say is a polished production, and Birchall was particularly impressive when she launched the album at a showcase in July.
On a humid evening in the oak-panelled cavern upstairs at Kettners, packed with seasoned music hacks and industry insiders, she commanded the room impressively with a brisk set that easily kept the wailing Soho police sirens at bay: no mean achievement.
Birchall excels at the Nashville-tinged ballad. “All About Love”, “Wonderful” and the title track, “Something to Say”, are well-constructed, radio-friendly earworms with upbeat lyrics. But in true country-influenced tradition, there’s also an underlying melancholy and a more than a hint of bitter experience in some of the low-key numbers, particularly the standout track, “Unanswered”, with its aching, Dusty-style piano.
The covers, which include “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” and Olivia Newton-John’s “I Honestly Love You”, are fine, straight-down-the-middle interpretations. But on the evidence of the rest of the album, Birchall doesn’t really need to bulk out her own song-writing talents with other people’s old crowd-pleasers.