Joy Ellis Life on Land
(F-ire CD96. CD Review by Peter Jones)
This arrived rather late, hence the rather late review. But it’s easy to see why it’s been so well received so far. Pianist and singer Joy Ellis has written all the songs on the album, and her writing reveals both depth of feeling and a rare degree of lyrical literacy.
Life on Land sounds distinctively English: there’s a certain pastoral quality to Be Kind and Here in the Quiet, which are full of warmth and gorgeous melody. But it’s not all about feel-good vibes: on The City, Joy takes a swipe at the “duelling raconteurs in the Square Mile, hustling”. She isn’t afraid to cover difficult topics like hopelessness, as on Veteran. And on Ellington Said, she develops Duke’s conceit of music as a demanding mistress: “she’ll take all your money and your space for thought”. Ain’t that the truth…
So Ellis always has a reason – often a moral reason – for writing these songs, which do far more than merely describe what she sees going on around her.
Her voice is expressive and clear, with a passionate flutter in it that reminds me of Bjork, whilst at other times there’s more than a touch of Norma Winstone. When harmonized and multi-tracked, as on What Got Lost Along the Way, the voice sounds sublime. The piano playing is, if anything, even better. Rather than show off the chops she clearly has in abundance, her approach to the keyboard is always in the service of the song, and she adapts her style to the differing properties of acoustic piano or Rhodes.
At the core of the band are drummer (and husband) Adam Osmianski and bassist Henrik Jensen plus the ubiquitous Rob Luft on guitar. We already know that the latter is a fine soloist, and he demonstrates this here on Veteran, What Got Lost Along the Way, and indeed every other tune he turns his hand to. There are also welcome guest appearances from James Copus (flugelhorn) and Binker Golding (tenor saxophone). But the greatest strength of this collection is the richness and sophistication of the songwriting.
I’ve heard some wonderful albums in 2017, but I don’t think I’ve heard a better one than Life on Land.