OK, TV talent shows? You know the form. Vocal gymnastics of Olympic proportions matched by wannabe diva behavior have the judges reaching for the Thesaurus to find more synonyms for ‘you made the song your own.’ But if you are tired of singers who really smashed it, killed it, or are on a journey, then consider the UK’s Rebecca Ferguson. The Liverpudlian single mum of two came second in last year’s X Factor contest and maintained a genuinely touching old world charm and dignity throughout the competition. And quite different to the norm.
Twelve months later, her debut album, Heaven, is the end product. All the songs are written by Ferguson, with co-writing credits going to producer Eg White (Adele, Duffy, Will Young), and refreshingly reflect real life rather than the overblown values mostly associated with the show. The album works between fairly narrow lines. It’s all about the voice (as X Factor judge Louis Walsh might say) and Rebecca Ferguson has got it. Her tremulous gospel tones recall an early Aretha Franklin and she exercises a restrained control over both ends of the register that is the mark of a great singer.
The songs are about romance, relationships, aspirations, and what is valuable but with a reality check to them that forgives the occasional cheesy sentiment. Thankfully, like Ferguson’s expert vocal delivery, the arrangements are rooted in Motown and Philadelphia soul rather than the routine stuff that passes for R&B these days. Any temptation to throw in a bit of hip-hop, rap, or whatever, is joyously passed up, and the result is 10 solid songs and very little filler. The opener, “Nothing’s Real But Love”, has a strong chorus and charts what is important in life. “No money, no house, no car can beat love” might seem a simplistic statement but delivered by Ferguson it is heartfelt.
The record is littered with hit single potential, from the glorious “Shoulder To Shoulder”, which pitches love and animosity as inescapable bedfellows, to the Motown drive of “Mr Bright Eyes”, while “Fighting Suspicions” could be a shoe-in as the next Bond theme. This is a mature and polished debut, and if you thought Adele was a decent vocalist, you should listen to this girl.
Essential Tracks: “Nothing’s Real But Love”, “Shoulder To Shoulder”, “Mr Bright Eyes”