As Blackpool’s Jess Harwood releases her second EP, Getintothis’ Tom Konstantynowicz finds an artist evolving with ruthless conviction.
There’s a whole bunch of musicians who put emphasis on reinventing themselves with every record, few do it with the ruthless conviction of learning a whole new instrument though.
Blackpool based singer-songwriter Jess Harwood ditched the acoustic guitar she taught herself to play just five years ago and picked up on some piano lessons she had at the age of nine to explore a new avenue in her writing, the result, her second EP You & I.
Just like her debut, there are still some of those basic pop sensibilities, though they’re laced with enough charm and know-how to ensure they never wear thin. Everything in the oft-used subject matter and simple melody comes across very naturally and organic and atmospheric opener I Need You is a great example of this.
One of the most striking tools in her arsenal are those pipes, which are pushed to the limit throughout these five tracks with note bends, falsettos and big, belting choruses. It’s an impressive vocal performance throughout and works in perfect harmony with Harwood’s soothing songwriting skills which, coupled, sweep you along through the record rather nicely.
The production by ortoPilot is powerful enough to give each track gravitas but subtle and measured enough so she doesn’t get drowned out or overwhelmed. The little guitar breakdown just after the middle eight in Everything I Do is an inspired touch and that kind of know-how draws her away from the pop ballad by numbers formula it would be so easy to get bogged down in.
Shifting from guitar to piano somehow gives the emotive lyrics more edge. It brings out more sass in the vocal as Harwood noticeably riffs with herself much better when sat at a keyboard than stood with a guitar. In what is, for the most part, a record inspired by break ups, it’s in no way gloomy and tracks like Leaving You Tonight are empowering rather than depressing.
Being from Blackpool, the same town as breakthrough artist Rae Morris, it’s hard not to make that comparison. While Morris has been successful filling a small gap somewhere between Ellie Goulding and Kate Bush, Harwood looks like she could plug the endearing piano balladry shaped hole she left behind.
If the time between her last record I’ll Find A Way and this one has been a transition period, then she has evolved into an artist who, through her music, articulates heartache like no other.