'Umbrellas in the Rain' with its slight Cuban feel you think will go full montuno but doesn't in the piano introduction is reminiscent of the collaborative songwriting style of Kazuo Ishiguro and Jim Tomlinson on a song like 'The Changing Lights' although singer Jo Harrrop is far more Dusty Springfield soulful than the girl next door New Yorkness of Stacey Kent. Pianist Paul Edis is a major key kind of player often on this record. And his bright tonality might be too nice for some given that. But there is less sugar and more spice than you might realise. He also likes to swing. 'Short Story' a song written by Edis and Kate Edis features the soprano saxophone playing of Emma Rawicz and again that Ishiguro and Tomlinson comparison sticks, Rawicz shows she can do more melodic styles as well as she can do oblique as in her own work and on her excellent debut Incantation and adds an extra dimension.
Harrop's voice is a fine instrument, a quiet ache to its retro throwback character without being at all false and a bluesy longueur to it that is perfect on whatever song the Englishwoman wishes to interpret. The lyrics throughout the album are romantic, seasonal, sometimes a little greetings card-like in terms of truisms but that isn't an issue unless you want to cancel half the songs in existence. Appealingly transgressive fling song 'Umbrellas in the Rain' is superbly caught.
Recorded in a Chelsea studio produced by long time Harrop collaborator guitarist Jamie McCredie 'A Perfect Winter's Day' with strings veers more away from a jazz sound and is just a nice song but doesn't really do much beyond that. 'Winter Love Affair' ('One Day Soon') is the sole five star song on the album and is an instant classic and deserves all the awards going. But away from tedious backslapping if that even happens and concomitant musicbiz insincerity, connecting with an anonymous listener simply liking the song tuning in to the radio somewhere out on the road, pulling over to listen, and being moved is far more important. It's also, fear not you won't come out in a rash, a Christmas song that does not grate. The last time a north east of England singer came up with a Christmas song that works so well was Chris Rea on the lovable twinkling 1980s classic 'Driving Home For Christmas'. And you don't really know that it's even one for the Yule until after the song has won you over. And by then it doesn't matter. 'New Year New You' with its phat big beat swung mightily by fine bassist Adam King is another strong suit of When Winter Turns To Spring. Hearing Edis' sextet live this week in Soho immediately the same style is recognisable in the arranging tilt. So for the sake of convenience, 4 tracks here are 4 star, 'One Day Soon' is a 5, the rest 3 if you don't find it too galling to think in asterisk terms.
While it's good to have a version of the Thad Jones/Alec Wilder classic 'A Child Is Born' a song that never palls look elsewhere for more satisfying versions in recent years, particularly the Almah instrumental-only treatment of the Jones tune by the great Avishai Cohen. Even better go back to the very beginnings and the first 1970 release of the song rendered by the bassist for the ages Richard Davis (Out to Lunch, Point of Departure, Rip, Rig and Panic, Astral Weeks) on the Muses for Richard Davis version with Roland Hanna pre-Liberian knighthood spectacular as is Davis soft in the mix. 'Breathing' is too lush. 'In the Bleak Midwinter' finds Edis more grandiose than usual in the introduction and here, producer concession, McCredie solos. 'Spring Put the Swing in My Step' is fun but a bit corny.
Jo Harrop, photo: Francesca Brecciaroli