Exactly a year ago, Adelaide-raised jazz singer Jo Lawry escaped the impending pandemic chaos in her adopted home New York to return to South Australia.
With COVID-19 about to envelope New York, where she has lived for two decades, her husband Will Vinson made the call. With a young child and another well on the way, the family was on a flight home within 20 hours of making the decision.
She’s been here ever since, with the happy benefit for Adelaide audiences of being able to see a bit more of her in local venues, including at The Queens on the weekend.
The Saturday night performance underneath the venue’s high corrugated iron roof saw Lawry perform her regular mix of self-penned songs and jazz numbers, but with a few debut live performances and a surprisingly deep cover version of Kylie Minogue’s “Got to Be Certain” (a track from the first album she owned – Kylie’s self-titled debut album from 1988).
Accompanied by a trio of musicians, including Vinson on piano and, occasionally, saxophone, Lawry began with her song “The Bathtub and the Sea” – a folk-pop song with her signature clever lyrical touch.
Next came a song she’d never performed before, “The End of the World” – written on November 9, 2016 (the day after Donald Trump was elected president). The breezy Latin-tinged rhythm and Lawry’s crystal-clear voice added a hopeful answer to the question: “How do you begin, the day after the end?”
Those who’ve followed her career know that Lawry is a seriously talented jazz singer. Her credits include a long stint as a back-up singer to Sting – an eclectic performer who has veered into jazz territory on many occasions (Lawry features on Sting’s latest album, Duets, in company with the likes of Annie Lennox, Eric Clapton, Mary J Blige and a host of other fine performers).
It’s not surprising, then, that the highlights of the performance included the jazz standard “East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)”, with Vinson on sax in a virtuosic musical conversation with Lawry’s powerful and flexible vocals. Her upper register, when unleashed, is an amazing instrument and was put to great use in her vocalese on saxophonist Hank Mobley’s instrumental solo on the Irving Berlin song, “Remember” – spectacular.
The most surprising moment of the night was her transformation of “Got to be Certain” – in Minogue’s recording, a pretty plodding example of late ’80s pop hit-making. In Lawry’s hands, it became a slower, more harmonically-surprising number, suited to the cabaret-type setting, with an emotional ache in the eponymous chorus-line that tricked you into thinking you were listening to a bittersweet romance from the American songbook.
Clever and fun.
Jo Lawry’s Adelaide Fringe season at The Queens has now ended.
Read more Adelaide Fringe reviews and previews here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.