Sarah Jane Morris: The Sisterhood

The singer who came to light with Republic in the 1980s dedicates a set of originals to 10 prominent female performers of the last century

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The Sisterhood is Sarah Jane Morris’s personal tribute to and celebration of 10 female artists prominent in the music world during the last century. They are Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Annie Lennox and Kate Bush.

The choice is clearly subjective and anybody with an interest in music would probably come up with some different choices – Carole King, Etta James, Tina Turner, Bonnie Raitt, Dusty Springfield, Dina Washington, Mavis Staples etc. Thankfully, the list of remarkable female artists is long. But in terms of a representative group that needed to be condensed into a single album, her choice is pretty good. The album is scheduled to be released on International Women’s Day (8 March 2024) which undoubtably explains where Sarah Jane Morris was coming from when conceiving, writing and performing this album.

I have been a big fan of Morris since seeing her perform some live gigs about 20 years ago. At the time she had a heavy leaning towards blues and R&B for which her voice is perfectly suited. She first found fame in the 1980s with bands like Republic and The Communards. For the latter she provided vocals on the 1986 chart-topping hit, Don’t Leave Me This Way. Since then, she has released some 15 solo albums, the most recent of which have been more heavily themed, such as the African-orientated Bloody Rain (2014); the conversational Compared To What (2016) and most recently, the John Martyn inspired Sweet Little Mystery (2019).

There is no denying the power of Morris’s vocal range and as a live performer she is formidable. However, she can take the mood down to soulful and melodic with equal skill whenever the moment requires. However, it is her ability as a songwriter that really shines on this album. All 10 tracks are original, written by Morris herself with her musical partner, Tony Remy.

The challenge of celebrating such diverse artists in song is formidable, but thankfully the end result never falls into the trap of being pastiche. Instead, the album is a highly enjoyable, original and entertaining set of songs that remain rooted in the legacies of the artists they celebrate.

It is difficult to pick out favourites, but the funk-flavoured tribute to Aretha Franklin (Sisterhood), the African-inspired homage to Miriam Makeba (Miss Makeba) and the obvious empathy for the music of Annie Lennox (For The Voiceless) stand out. The first single to be released from the album (and the most radio friendly) is Jazz Side Of The Road, a song that reflects on the expressive and eclectic nature of American singer and songwriter Rickie Lee Jones.

Morris describes the project as “the best project I’ve ever been part of”. She says her motivation for the album was simply “the passing of the torch from sister to sister”. That, to me, seems as good an explanation as any. Highly recommended.


Discography
Sisterhood; Couldn’t Be Without; Tomorrow Never Happens; So Much Love; Jazz Side Of The Road; Rimbaud Of Suburbia; Sing Me A Picture; Junk In My Trunk; For The Voiceless, Miss Makeba (53.00)
Morris (v); Tony Remy (g, syn, drum programming); Jason Rebello (p, Fender Rhodes); Mervyn Africa (p, kyb); Luke Smith (o); Orphy Robinson (vib); Petyer Gordeno (Hammond); Matteo Saggesse (kyb); Quentin Collins (t, flh); Branden Allen (s); Patrick Clahar (ss); Ian Burdge (cl); Courtney Pine (bcl); Tim Cansfield, Dominic Miller (g); Henry Thomas, Nick Cohen, Julian Crampton (b); Westley Joseph, Martyn Barker (d); Karl Vanden Bossche (pc); The Chaps (horns); Gina Foster, Beverley Skeete (backing v), Eve Couturier (spoken voice). Recorded at Echo Zoo Studios (Eastbourne), Sleeper Sounds Studio (London) and Remydam Studios (London), 2020 to 2023.
Fallen Angel Ltd O18