* Prices may differ from that shown
The charts over the past few years have been rife with female singers who are invariably white and sing soul, usually soul of the 1960s variety. Amy Winehouse pioneered the sound but Adele has turned it into commercial gold, so much so there have been a slew of copycats in her midst.
One singer who I fervently hope doesn't get tarred with the same brush is Ren Harvieu, who came to my attention following radio airplay for her debut single "Through The Night". Harvieu's sound is definitely retro, and retro 1960s but it is sophisticated 1960s style fair, harking back to Bacharach and David compositions with lush orchestrations.
Harvieu's voice is quite remarkable and belies the fact she is only 21. It bears a remarkable maturity but is also an effortless instrument. Harvieu has a very good vocal range but not for her vocal acrobatics - every note she sings sounds as if it were as easy for her to sing as drawing a breath.
Harvieu was born in Salford in 1990. She was poised to release her debut album last year but this was put on hold following a freak accident when a friend vaulted a hedge without realising she was on the other side, landed on her and broke her back.
Harvieu has spent much of the past year battling back to health, having had to face the grim reality she might never walk again. She still requires the aid of a stick to get about but her recovery reveals a gritty determination - a determination she used in her teens to hone her singing skills.
~~Through the Night~~
Ren Harvieu isn't a singer-songwriter per se. Her name does appear on some of the writing credits on the album but the vast majority of those credits fall to collaborators who include Dave McCabe of the Zutons (he wrote "Valerie" which became a huge hit in the hands of Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson) and Howie Payne, a Liverpool musician who was once a member of The Stands.
The album opens with a McCabe composition called "Open Up Your Arms", which is Harvieu's second single release. The song is a wonderful way to start the album introducing the listener to a sound which is beautifully arranged and which has been produced to enable Harvieu's voice to be the star of the show.
If any one single word sums up the sound on this album it is "sumptuous" and "Open Up Your Arms" features sumptuous orchestrations and a voice which is just divine. Harvieu is capable of conveying emotions in a particularly charming manner, relying on intonation and inflection as opposed to shouting loudly and hoping that will cover an emotion.
On "Tonight" her voice is staggeringly mature as she embraces the torch singer within her and sounds incredibly sultry while still retaining a detached, cool tone to her delivery. The overall sound is early 1960s but it's incredibly original at the same time. The torchy sound follows over to "Do Right By Me" which is soulful yet restrained.
On "Walking in the Rain" Harvieu pinches the title of an early 1960s song and certainly that overdubbed sound is evident but there's something very up to date about the sound overall. What I love about this song is the exuberance of Harvieu's vocals which capture the optimism and joy of being young and in love.
On title track "Through the Night" Harvieu's vocals are paradoxical as she sounds both detached and sultry, cold yet simmering at the same time. Her voice is a joy to behold as she switches from coy and innocent in verses which slip effortlessly into a chorus which enable Harvieu to reveal hidden desires in a love song which is superbly executed.
At this juncture I need to mention the production by Jimmy Hogarth which gives the album a convincing retro feel whilst being firmly contemporary at the same time. Rather than using female backing vocalists he's used male backing singers on the album and this gives the album's overall sound a great warmth as the backing vocals blend with Harvieu's voice. On "Forever in Blue" this sound is particularly evident as a slow, stripped back torch song with echoing backing vocals over a simple arrangement.
Harvieu is allowed to show a darker side on "Twist the Knife" and "Dancing on Her Own". On the former Harvieu's ability to emote effortlessly is displayed perfectly as she lets a lover know his new girl won't love him like she does. On the latter the tempo goes up a notch and Harvieu sings over a quite superb guitar riff punctuated almost paradoxically by a string section. Once again the vocals rely on tone and timing to convey emotion and Harvieu pulls it off with aplomb.
"Holding On" makes great use of those male backing singers again but with a well used horn section and simple piano backing this time. This has a bit of a country vibe to it and Harvieu gives the whole song a sultry, late night radio sound that works very, very well.
The final two tracks on the album are both beautiful, lush and hugely romantic. "Summer Romance" is an epic teenage love song which in places puts me in mind of some of Roy Orbison's output 50 years ago. When Harvieu sings "please don't let me hear you say goodbye" it's convincing as her voice reveals a timbre which conveys a deep longing and some good old teen angst in that charmingly innocent way pop music used to do. The arrangement is so good you can almost see Harvieu on a beach with waves crashing around her as she sings this.
The album ends with "Love is a Melody" which retains the orchestra from the previous track. Harvieu's vocal range is shown to best effect on this song as she uses orchestral references when singing about her romance. Her vocals soar here yet even when hitting the high notes her voice remains as effortlessly cool as it is throughout the album.
This is a hugely impressive debut album from Ren Harvieu. I was sucked into buying this on the basis of the title track alone, something I have done in the past and lived to regret.
What makes this stand out from the crowd is Harvieu's voice, which is reminiscent of some of the female singers of the 60s - certainly there's touches of Dusty Springfield and Sandie Shaw in there - but which is unmistakably hers. Harvieu can be cool, sultry, sexy and passionate and convince without having to scream, shout or make it painfully obvious singing is hard work.
I've always said the best singers are those who make it look easy, and there aren't many I can think of these days who can do that in the way Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald did. Harvieu makes it look easy on Through the Night however and for all this album is well produced, beautifully arranged and impeccably performed the star of the show is her voice.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Open Up Your Arms
3 Do Right By Me
4 Walking in the Rain
5 Through the Night
6 Forever in Blue
7 Twist the Knife
8 Dancing On Her Own
9 For You
10 Holding On
11 Summer Romance