Julia Fordham

That's Life

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Concrete Love, issued in 2002 for Vanguard, was a watermark for singer/songwriter Julia Fordham. Full of elegance and texture, the album paired her with producer Larry Klein. They had worked together once before on 1989's Porcelain. Concrete Love once more showcased the juxtaposition of Klein's graceful subtlety and Fordham's poignancy. The duo returns on That's Life, and it's a worthy successor to Concrete Love. Fordham's songs are always sharp and cutting in their honesty, but they are never sophomoric. Here, with collaborators including Billy Preston, Dean Parks, Greg Leisz, Jamie Muhoberac, David Ricketts, Vinnie Colaiuta, Joey Waronker, and others (in addition to Klein himself), Fordham takes a tough, square look at the phases and stages of life and love; her songs gaze into the murky depths of a person engulfed in observing the tender, edgy web of everyday life in the interior. Her protagonists encounter desire, vulnerability, ambivalence, passion, willingness, fear, and frustration, and express a quiet gratitude for the ability to experience these things. She goes for the ambiguous, little-noticed shadows in the corners of the human heart that inform our choices to trust, to love, to surrender, and to change -- without flinching. Her melodies are accessible but never easy. They never take the easy way out and underscore her throaty clear voice, which enunciates longing honestly, with reportorial observation, honesty, and even wisdom -- all of which contain an ache at their core. "Sugar" opens the album with a sleepy, funky backbeat; it underscores the protagonist's awakening to possibility. With Parks' guitar chunking behind Preston's B-3 and a punchy backing chorus, the tune is drenched in a seductive groove. On "Jacob's Ladder," Fordham uses a biblical metaphor to soulfully express a deep desire for transcendence. The jazzy bass and snare groove is accented with a Rhodes piano and the B-3. The bewilderment and desolation in "Downhill Sunday" are brought home by a lilting acoustic piano and given weight by Leisz's pedal steel. The shimmering soul in "Walking on the Water" expresses the steadfastness of love with a warm, bubbly organ and horn section groove highlighted by a steamy backing chorus. And the title track, with its nocturnal reflection on love's loss and the loneliness in its aftermath, is sad to be sure, but it is given dimension by the acceptance of these things for what they are. The strummed acoustic guitars, loose and rolling bass, and drum lines that allow Fordham to express the stark pain that has to be lived through are breathtaking. In other words, on That's Life, music and lyrics fit together seamlessly, offering listeners a complex pop music that engages in life's labyrinth with depth and dimension, and finds beauty in its wounds and blessings.

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