< Back to Archived Press
2003 - USA & Canada
BillboardLove & Pain
Produced by the artist, along with Calum MacColl (Kirtsy's brother) and Martyn Barker (Shriekback), 'Love and Pain' lovingly draws from a variety of musical forces: blues, pop, rock, jazz, soul and electronic. It is the perfect landscape for Morris' Southern Comfort - hued voice- which brings to mind Janis Joplin by way of Alison Moyet, Shara Nelson and Macy Gray. And her voice shines in these tales of life and love - all of which she co-penned. Highlights include the sassy 'Mad Woman Blues', the soaring' Arms Of An Angel', the Lisa Stansfield-shaded 'Nothing Comes From Nothing' and the heartfelt 'Fields of Wheat'. Throughout, Morris' independent spirit reigns supreme. 'It's Jesus I Love/But It's the Devil! Need Tonight,' she acknowledges on 'It's Jesus I Love'. On 'A Horse Named Janis Joplin' Morris sees herself in the late singer.
Consider 'Love and Pain' one 'pearl' of an album.
Having known more than my fair share of them over the years, I have vested clinical interest in women who are either certifiably insane or, at the very least, vehemently insistent in their refusal to take their prescribed antidepressant medication. So if you're like me, you'll be pleased to hear that Sarah Jane Morris' new album more than ably plugs any psychic gaps which may rupture on those dark lonely nights when your loved one gets loose and runs rampant on the streets.
I'm not saying she's a female John Cale or anything like that, because Sarah-Jane's far too eclectic and versatile to wear such a simplistic tag. Nevertheless, her weird and wonky Love and Pain would've been right at home on Island Records in the mid- '70s alongside such miasmic masterpieces as Cale's Fear, Nico's The End, and Eno's Here Come The Warm Jets.
It gets better:, not only does SJM pen snarling, dick-shrivelling lyrics that make Dylan and Costello look like toothless eunuchs, she has an amazing, drop-dead voice that effortlessly becomes a Big Mama Thornton blues-infused harried harridan (Mad Woman Blues); a Rita Bodine throwback (Love and Pain); a channeler of Billie Holiday (Blind Old Friends); a smooth 'n' soulful sparkle-gowned Motown chanteuse (Innocence); a raspy Bette Davis-style street strutter (I Get High); and a sly subversive with the feral cunning of Annette Peacock (It's Jesus I Love).
Healthy company, I know. Which is why Love and Pain is the user-friendly album that Diamanda Galas never got round to recording, but should have. So if the above-noted Mental Advisory doesn't scare you off, shift over and make room in the "M" section of your record collection - because a new inmate is about to take over the asylum. Sarah Jane Morris: unmedicated and proud of it.
The Star Phoenix, Montreal 2003
SHADES OF SARAH
COMPARED TO THE GREATS SUCH AS BILLY HOLIDAY AND JANICE JOPLIN, THIS 'NEWCOMER' WILL LEAVE YOU WANTING MORE.
SARAH-JANE INFUSES HER SONGS WITH HINTS OF FUNK, SOUL AND BLUES
Sarah-Jane Morris has enjoyed a 20-years career in the UK as an actor, singer, activist and songwriter, but she's virtually unknown in this part of the world. Which is to say, we don't know what we've been missing.
As she displays on her new album Love and Pain, Morris is a vocal titan, infusing her original songs with shades of funk, soul and blues and either belting them out or singing the notes between the notes. Her singing has been compared to an array of strong female voices: Billy Holiday, Nina Simone, Janice Joplin, Macy Gray, Erykah Badu and others.
Married to former Pogues member David Coulter, Morris is also the mother of an eight-year-old boy and the leader of a band which features scions of the folk legend the Seeger family. It's fair to say there are more than a few sides to Sarah-Jane Morris. Morris first played Canada in the mid 80's when she was a member of the gay disco band the Communards, which scored a couple of international hits. (A few years later, Morris's cover of Me and Mrs. Jones started false rumours that she was a lesbian.) All that history won't matter much when Morris entertains at several Canadian jazz festivals this summer, and that's just the way she likes it.
'It's a very nice position to be in - I'm being treated in Canada and America as a newcomer,' Morris said recently from her home near Stratford-upon-Avon. 'How fantastic is that? You've done the 22 years hard groundwork. You're releasing what you consider to be your best work, which is totally original material. And you get introduced to a new territory that treats you as an intelligent human being. '
Morris's terrific experience last year at the Montreal Jazz Festival compelled her to return. She'd like to do more than the few show's she's set up, but simply can't afford it. The size of the country alone is daunting, she finds. 'I had no idea how large Canada was. It's huge isn't it? We're flying from Saskatoon to Montreal and we get on the plane at seven in the morning and we get there at two in the afternoon.'
Morris is pleased to be able to show off her new album, which had humble roots, it was recorded in a garden shed. In fact, the shed was so small that Morris had to stand in the yard to sing. 'Often with people moving their lawns nest to me and phones going off in the background.' Fittingly, the album art features portraits and objects made from actually grass and turf The word 'Love' is in lush green lettering while 'pain' is brown and lifeless.
There's a story behind every song. A Horse Named Janis Joplin was inspired by Morris auditioning to star in a Paramount movie about the famous singer. 'I felt sure, stupidly, that the part was mine.' Later she heard that Britney Spears was being courted for the role. 'I thought I had been let off the hook because this is going to be a terrible film. But I did fall from a great height - bruised ego.' The horse metaphor is an honest one: Morris is a racetrack enthusiast because her aunt was the first female trainer in Britain. Morris seems surrounded by fame.
The only daughter of a family of six boys ('I became a judo champion. '), Morris recently tracked down her American relatives, the ones no one talked about. It turned out she is a cousin of famous gay author Armistead Maupin, an icon in San Francisco. Morris' fellow musicians have their own unique history. Her guitar players, brother Calum and Neill MacColl, are the sons of Peggy Seeger, the step-mother of Pete Seeger. Their father Ewan MacColl wrote 'First Time Ever I Saw Your Face', Roberta Flack's mammoth hit, and one of the Pogue's biggest songs, Dirty Old Town. And their sister, Kirsty MacColl was a Pogues' singer who penned They Don't' Know, which Tracy Ulman made famous. Tragically, Kirsty died after being hit by a boat whilst swimming in Mexico in 2000.
'What a musical history they have,' Morris said of Calum and Neill, 'They are two of the most amazing guitarists that I've worked with. Because of where they come from, that whole folk tradition of lyric being the most important thing, they know how little to play and that is quite something.'
Morris will also have her bassist, Henry Thomas, along on the tour. He looks as imposing as a New York rapper, but he's 'just a soft puppy,' she says. 'He's a bit of a legend in England. He's called King Thumb.'
Morris is looking forward to the tour but still feels a pull back to home. On this trip, she's had to miss her son Otis's school play. 'I think it's harder for a child to have a mother going away than a father going away. And as a woman you're born feeling guilty, so I give myself a hard time about it.' Morris will be thinking of her boy when she sings her song Innocence, which she wrote for him. 'What saved me and continues to save me is my innocence. It's believing the best in people, believing 'why would someone want to harm me?' Believing in fairies, believing in beautiful things rather than seeing the ugliness of life. And so the message I passed on to him through this song is 'wrap your innocence around you. '
Washington BladeA woman celebrating
Sarah-Jane Morris does not try to resolve conflicts or apologize for female foibles on her sixth and latest CD, 'Love and Pain.'
Combine the voices and attitudes of Janis Joplin, Joan Armatrading, Grace Jones, Macy Gray and Annie Lennox. Then, you may begin to get a sense of the sound of Sarah-Jane Morris, who released her latest CD, "Love and Pain," on July 8. Morris is best known for her remake of the Thelma Houston dance classic, "Don't Leave Me This Way," which she made an international hit with the Communards in 1986. Notable especially to the lesbian community is her 1989 remake of Billy Paul's "Me & Mrs. Jones."
"What I've done in 'Love and Pain' is I've celebrated being a woman, and being a woman at the age that I am," Morris, 44, told the Blade during a recent interview in New York City. Her songs, written from a female perspective, confront the sometimes fierce and conflicting emotions all people face on some level. Morris seeks neither to resolve conflicts nor to apologize for female foibles. She says her work simply looks at and sometimes has "a sense of humour with the contradictions."
Morris, who is from Stratford-upon-Avon, England, is not a lesbian. But the performer, who is committed to socialist and equality politics, would not say so, even when her version of "Me & Mrs. Jones" - a personal favourite in which she refused to change the gender of the lyrics – was essentially banned from U.K. radio. It was never released as a single in the U.S. As for defending her rendition of "Me & Mrs. Jones," Morris says, "If I didn't, it was like betraying everything that had been done ... every friend that I had. I couldn't do that." The song was a hit in countries including Germany, France, Greece, and Italy, where a great deal of her popularity remains. Morris also enjoys strong support among lesbian fans. This followed closely after her work with the '80s gay dance icons, the Communards.
"LOVE AND PAIN" is Morris' sixth album, and the first where she's written or helped write each song. "Mad Woman Blues" begins the CD with a traditional blues feel set to a slow hip-hop drum loop. It is a call for women to take control of their lives: "I demand that you girls now listen to me/You must partake of all your chances, remain truly free." In the ballad "Once In Every While," the range of Morris' vocals begins to become evident as she plunges from a straight-ahead, strong mid-range to a low, growling counterpoint. The title song, "Love and Pain" places a heavy, sexual dance beat verse and chorus against a light, angelic bridge. "It's the nearest I've gotten to writing an S&M song," quips Morris, about lyrics that speak of the physical and psychological merging of passion with anguish: "My body aches to breathe your breath/With your words you keep me alive/Nothing between us but nakedness/While you suck my lifeblood through your crazy eyes."
Religious references permeate "It's Jesus I Love," ("but it's the devil I need tonight"), "Blind Old Friends," "Arms of an Angel," and "Innocence," a lullaby for her son, Otis."I am spiritual," Morris says. "I couldn't necessarily name that it is God personified that I believe in, but I am interested in it enough ... to play with it in song." "A Horse Named Janis Joplin," references a time several years ago when Morris was considered for a part in a movie about Joplin. The part was not to be hers, but she combined the experience with memories of her aunt's passion for horse racing and the song emerged.
The album ends with its most moving piece, "Fields of Wheat," which was written for a friend who was on the fast track to being an acting superstar but committed suicide over "a heartbreak that she could not resolve." Its prominent vocals over a bed of synth strings and sparse piano help illustrate the complexity of friendship.
Morris notes that "Love and Pain" is a journey that starts with a tormented relationship and finishes with freedom and a celebration of someone special.
The Gazette, Montreal
FRIDAY JUNE 27, 2003
Last year, it was cautiously suggested that British singer/songwriter Sarah Jane Morris might prove the revelation of that particular jazz festival. After her electrifying Club Soda concert with American guitarist Marc Ribot, that was confirmed. Those who saw her offer every little piece of her heart then will be back for her triumphant return with not one show, but two, at Soda tonight and tomorrow. And they will not be alone.
It has been a 'very good year' for the 1980's radical Communard and current diva of the European Union, Janis Joplin channeler with a 3½ octave range, fearless interpreter of material by Cohen, Cave and Curtis Mayfield, and, on her fine new album Love and Pain, a singer-songwriter of no little distinction.
During a recent phone conversation from her family retreat outside Stratford-upon-Avon, she charmed the birds from the trees with candid, passionate observations about life, work, art, the nuclear unit, political madness and her ongoing cottage industry conquest of the entertainment world. The new album is a complete writing/performing/production collaboration with Martyn Barker and Calum MacColl, of the famed musical MacColl clan (pace Kirsty), and is the first tangible evidence that Morris has not only broken free from a decadeslong pattern of serial bad management but in her words 'taken it to the next level'. 'When we last spoke, I had finally taken control of my own career. I told you I would never be managed again. But what happened was, at the end of last year, I suddenly realised - 'God, I don't have a life anymore do I?'
As fantastic as it is the have control of everything, 1 never got to see my child (Otis), my husband (ex-Pogue David Coulter) or friends (numerous). 1 was making myself ill.' Martyn happened to play the demos of Love and Pain for Pete Jenner, who is Billy Bragg's manager. Now Billy and I go way back the Red Wedge days (an '80's movement of art and leftist politics). Pete heard the tapes, rang me up and said, 'These are great songs. 1 know you've done well getting to this level but I actually think you're going to need some help.' 'I said that I was reluctant to take on management after such a bad history, so 'Why don't we do it like I'm still managing myself?' He basically negotiates for me. He hasn't taken over my career. He does what 1 ask him to do and no more. 'I think he quite likes that, too. It's a grown up approach. I don't ask him to wipe my arse or book my tickets, or do anything other than contracts and advice. So it's management without feeling like I've lost control.'
Morris still licks stamps and sends out bios - it's how she landed her gig here last year. But she's also selling out weeks of concerts in her greatest fan base, Italy and still puts a lock on the legendary Ronnie Scott's jazz club in London where she settles in for her annual run: and has just been photographed for the cover of the European edition of Rolling Stone.
So it's entirely natural that she would interrupt a phone call to embrace her son, whom she has not seen in four days - the result of a disastrous Paris promo tour during a general strike - and who is over the moon about receiving his Beano club membership (Beano is a British comic). And she still insists on meeting her fans after her show after giving every little piece of her heart onstage. It is all part of the Sarah-Jane Morris charm. And it feels like the real thing.
Jeffrey Morganis Media BlackoutSarah Jane Morris: Love And Pain
Having known more than my fair share of them over the years, I have a vested clinical interest in women who are either certifiably insane or, at the very least, vehemently insistent in their refusal to take their prescribed antidepressant medication.
So if you’re like me, you’ll be pleased to hear that Sarah Jane Morris’ new album more than ably plugs any psychic gaps which may rupture on those dark lonely nights when your loved one gets loose and runs rampant on the streets.
I’m not saying she’s the female John Cale or anything like that, because Sarah Jane’s far too eclectic and versatile to wear such a simplistic tag. Nevertheless, her weird and wonky Love And Pain would’ve been right at home on Island Records in the mid-’70s alongside such miasmic masterpieces as Cale’s Fear, Nico’s The End, and Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets.
It gets better: not only does SJM pen snarling, dick-shriveling lyrics that make Dylan and Costello look like toothless eunuchs, she has an amazing, drop-dead voice that can effortlessly become a Big Mama Thornton blues-infused harried harridan (“Mad Woman Blues”); a Rita Jean Bodine throwback (“Love And Pain”); a channeler of Billie Holiday (“Blind Old Friends”); a smooth ’n’ soulful sparkle-gowned Motown chanteuse (“Innocence”); a raspy Bette Davis-style street strutter (“I Get High”); and a sly subversive with the feral cunning of Annette Peacock (“It’s Jesus I Love”).
Healthy company, I know. Which is why Love And Pain is the user-friendly album that Diamanda Galás never got around to recording, but should have. So if the above-noted Mental Advisory doesn’t scare you off, shift over and make room in the “M” section of your record collection — because a new inmate is about to take over the asylum.
Sarah Jane Morris: unmedicated and proud of it.