Derry’s Lady J is another of a increasingly long list of bands that I hadn’t heard of until they rocked up at the Diamond Rock Club, and immediately made me a fan thanks to their live performance. I like it this way round. I like to know a band can cut it live, and that its songs are strong enough to convert the previously uninitiated, before I sit down and listen to their recorded work. Or put another way, it’s horrible to praise someone’s recorded work, then see them live and realise that the studio had effectively deceived me.
No such problem for Lady J. The band can cut it live – they rock out, they grab the attention and then there is Lady J (Jeanette Hutton) herself. She simply has one of those unforgettable voices that, sadly, we are hearing less and less of in mainstream/popular music. That first night I saw the band at the Diamond, I walked out of the house as The Voice was on TV. Now, it may be the slightly less cynical ‘singing competition’ than the…(oh I can’t say it)…that show with ‘X’ in the title, but the female vocalists almost without exception try to sing the same way on those shows – the Houston way, the Dion way, or more recently (albeit slightly less annoyingly) the Adele way (complete with mockney accent). You know what I mean: singing that is more akin to a vocal warm up exercise than what it is meant to be; the vocal portrayal of whatever story the lyricist intended the singer to tell.
Jeanette’s vocals are a wonderful, and every welcome, throwback to the raspy vocals of Janis Joplin or Bonnie Tyler. She has the kind of lived-in voice that is just so authentic and could almost sing anything and it would be listenable. But Lady J has lived a life; that comes through in her lyrics. She’s smoked, drank and maybe more (see ‘Out of my Head’). She has loved, throwing herself into whatever relationship it was (‘Turn Me Over’, ‘Wanna Be Your Muse’). She has lost, lovers and family (‘Loved That Man’, ‘Angel For Keeps’). She kicked good-for-nothing’s to the kerb (‘Im Not Sorry’). She has dealt with assholes at gigs: you know those guys that see a sexy lady singing and think she is fair game for whatever drunken notion gets in their heads (‘The Creeper’). It’s all here if you care to listen. Add to that, the wistful introspection of ‘Girl With the Mojito’ and the whole album has a really rounded feel, as if it is the culmination of a life’s experiences. I like that. I like it when the lyric writer doesn’t sit in their room and try to imagine someone else’s life, thinking that will be more interesting than their own. I like them to give of themselves, to lay their own thoughts bare. And of course, when you have the voice to interpret those words into music, then it is a surefire winner for me as the listener.
Hutton is ably backed up by her band, who manage to match her raucous voice with equally raucous music. Guitarist, Martie McGill cranks out a mean riff, often coming up with subtle twists on what otherwise could perhaps have been written off as standard pub-rock fare – but thankfully is elevated above that on more than enough occasions to stop the attention from wandering, or thinking ‘I’ve heard this all before’. The rhythm section of Davy Doherty (bass) and Ruairi O’Doherty (drums) keep everything nice and tight, just as it should be.
It’s not a perfect album. There a few clunky lyrics where the attempt to tell the story gets in the way of the flow of the lyric and conversely other times where a few obvious rhymes fill a hole in the story. Improvements in the consistency of the recording could have been made here and there, but given a bit more time and money I am sure they likely would have been. The bottom line is though that I like an album with a live feel, where you don’t feel that Pro-Tools is pulling the wool over your eyes. You will know after listening to this album that, if you see Lady J live, you won’t be disappointed.
I still mourn the loss to the local scene of Ajenda (and still hope for an end to their hiatus). But it is good to know that, in terms of female fronted Rock bands, there are bands out there to fill the void Ajenda have left, with Lady J and latterly, Safire, stepping up to the mark. Safire has still a little work to do before they can attempt an album, but Lady J has released a really, really, enjoyable album, with more than one highlight – and oh….that voice.