Review: Josephine – Portrait

This may sound a little contradictory, but the most enjoyable aspect of Josephine’s wonderful debut album Portrait, is that it isn’t folk. Or should we say, it isn’t just folk. From track one to track ten, from minute one to minute thirty-four, this album oozes with influences and sounds, steering clear of any pigeon-shaped hole in the vicinity. Of course there are clear folky sounds to the record, but there are also wonderful moments of blues, a great deal of pop, a big hint of West African inspiration and a loveable amount of Northern soul, representing both Josephine Oniyama’s musical and family heritages.

Having started headlining at a young age, supporting Ladysmith Black Mambazo, writing songs with Guy Garvey, and recording albums, it must have been a huge blow when her time with Island Records trickled to an end several years ago. Yet Josephine wasn’t one to call it quits there and then. Now at 29, she is proving that second chances do come if you put the effort in and now she can enjoy the highly-deserved praise that is flooding her way.

Portrait really is a timeless album. It differs to any record that has been released by the masses of wonderfully talented female singer-songwriters over the past few years and this quite possibly makes it even more enjoyable. Instead of trying to fit it into a poorly judged musical definition, it can be enjoyed for what it is – a great debut album, from a great singer and songwriter.

Moreover, the production on the album is perfect. It clearly ensures that Josephine’s voice is the stand-out highlight of the record, yet each track features its own, finely-tuned identity. A Freak A, for example, presents lightly plucked guitars, a rolling Caribbean beat and some gorgeous harmonies when needed, but for the most part they remain in the background, so as to keep focus on Josephine’s rich, gospel-like vocals. Furthermore, singles Original Love and What A Day bring a great pop-vibe to the record, but still with serious connotations, be it in a personal, love-hungry situation, or on a more accessible level.

Pepper Shaker is a tremendously fun track, featuring some fantastic West-African style beats, sharp and cutting electric-guitar and some infectious, rhythmic brass; whilst House Of Mirrors brings the album to an exquisite end, with Ed Harcourt’s elegant keys and some stunning string arrangements adding to, but not stealing the limelight, from Josephine’s ever-beautiful, soaring and flawless voice. This track really does have an amazing Joni Mitchell quality to it and is an extraordinary way to end an extraordinary debut record.

On a personal level, we cannot wait to see Josephine perform at our next TFFT Live gig on October 22nd. Not only will this be an utterly sensational set, but will be her first gig in her home city of Manchester, following the release of the album. Tickets can be found by bought via wegottickets.com

Portrait is released this coming Monday – October 8th

Dom Kay