Review By Matthew Hocter
Back in 2013 I remember getting wind of an upcoming documentary about backing vocalists and their often unspoken importance to the artists they back and also the importance they play in the music industry at large. I was in heaven. My dream as a child was only ever to be a backing vocalist. I would put shows on for my parents at five years of age, always taking the background vocals and loving every minute of it. Needless to say, my career as a backing vocalist still hasn’t come to fruition, but with the release of the documentary, “20 Feet from Stardom,” I got to live out my fantasy by seeing the background stories to some of the world’s greatest singers, all of whom were doing what they love – singing.
With the likes of legendary vocalists like Lisa Fischer, Merry Clayton, Tata Vega and Darlene Love, it was another woman in the cast by the name of Jo Lawry that sparked my interest. I couldn’t understand why she seemed so familiar to me, sure, she was a backing vocalist for Sting, but there was something else niggling at me as to why I had to know more. Hours of research later and I discovered that this incredible vocalist and I shared the same birth place; Adelaide in South Australia. My little sleepy town down the bottom of Australia was being represented globally by someone just like me. I couldn’t have been prouder.
Fast forward to 2021 and a year into the global pandemic known as COVID and like so many others, both Lawry and myself found ourselves returning to the familiar sleepiness of our hometown Adelaide after many years away. A chance meeting after a Kate Ceberano show at the Adelaide Fringe cemented my need to see this lady live and as luck would have it, she was performing and I was reviewing.
Sitting at the back of The QUEENS theatre, I was in a privileged position to see firsthand the packed out theatre and with a bird’s eye view of the stage. As Lawry’s husband Will Vincent took to the Grand Piano, he was joined on stage Lyndon Gray on Bass and Angus Mason on Drums. Guitar in hand, Lawry joined the trio and opened with the title track and namesake off of her most recent album, 2017’s “The Bathtub and The Sea.” From the onset it was clear to see that Lawry’s vocals, whilst soaring at times, were softly melodic and easy to digest, creating an almost folk like sound, but uniquely Lawry’s.
Lawry’s ability to tell stories, in particular the ones behind her music, is something that not only came with ease, but an ability she delivered in an honest and organic way. A break up song with the world after Trumps election in 2016 (End of the World) and a stunningly beautiful ode to Adelaide not only showcased her song writing skills and originality, but again put her vocal prowess front and centre. That voice was never more in its element than we she sang the jazz standard “East of the Sun (West of the Moon).” A voice made for jazz and an almost hypnotising ability to scat that I have not seen in a very long time.
As the night progressed and more of Lawry’s original work was put on display, the multi-talented artist took to not only the guitar and vocals, but also sat at the grand piano demonstrating her versatility and ability to cover a wide range of instruments. Moving through a range of musical styles like rock n roll, it was when Lawry delved into jazz that her ethereal voice moved through the notes with such ease and a sound that lent itself to pure melodic beauty.
As the show slowly wrapped, a cover of Kylie Minogue’s “Got to Be Certain” was reworked in such a way that I was left speechless and something that Minogue herself would have been in awe of. Attempting an Irving Berlin number named “Remember” was nothing short of a masterpiece as Lawry weaved in and out of its complex and intricate word structure, yet again with what appeared to an ease that only a true master of their craft can possess.
With a joyous love song titled “So far, So good,” in honour of her husband, Lawry closed the show with a light-hearted comedic twist. Like so many have or do face in a relationship, Lawry sang a joyous demonstration of love in all its complexities and differences ending with the sweet and simple “I wouldn’t change you.” As Lawry mentioned in her show, returning home felt like she was somehow regressing, something I can identify with. But with all the changes and upheaval in the world over the last year, having so much talent return home has been nothing short of magical, and that most definitely includes Jo Lawry.