Beady Belle ‘Dedication’ 2LP/CD/DIG (Jazzland Recordings) 5/5

Having followed Beady Belle’s career from the start, I’ve been lucky enough to catch her play her very first UK gig in 2001 at The Jazz Café in London for her debut album ‘Home’ Tour. Then a few years later in 2005 I saw her open for Jamie Cullum in Dublin, playing a mixture of material from ‘Home’ and ‘CEWBEAGAPPIC’ (Beady being the main reason for my attendance at that gig!). Though Beady has always toured extensively in Europe and Canada, it was a further eight years and three albums later that Beady would visit London again playing in 2013 and 2016 and then in May 2018 at Ronnie Scott’s for a more acoustic rendition of her new album ‘Dedication’, which would have been a special treat as I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her new release.

Dedication was a real grower for me. I always feel music deeper when I’m driving, maybe because my subconscious is driving my car on auto pilot, the rest of my mind can just tune in to the music. With Beady’s new album on auto play I’ve really had a chance to absorb this record in a gradually evolving way… but I’ll start from the beginning.

Upon my first listen I was pleased to hear her voice again, and what a voice! Some jazz and soul singers blend into each other in song and style, yet Beady has always had that distinctive tone, an obvious influence from her native Norwegian accent. As the album moves through its eleven tracks and almost fifty minutes playing time, I’m trying to connect with the sounds and styles I hear, but I’m longing for the feel of her mesmerising debut album ‘Home’. I’m starting to realise that what is on offer now, is a move away from that original electronic, jazzy sound. A move that has picked up new influences and genres along the way, cementing a concrete live band sound, leaving the programming to one side and unpeeling a core septet of musicians.

It’s on my second and subsequent listens that things start to click into place. I’ve moved on from wanting things the same and I’m starting to appreciate the direction the song writing has chosen. The opening track ‘Mercy’ jumps out at you with its punchy Juno 60 analogue synth and backing vocals. The track glides into a neo soul groover with Beady’s seductive vocals wrapped around the rhythm. With flutters of Hammond organ and nice snappy ride work on the beat, you start to feel the playing of the band together, like a studio work out that is tight but organic. I’m feeling comparisons of musical style to one of her peers, Laura Vane, both songwriters with powerful and original voices.

‘Out of Orbit’ brings the tempo down to 90 bpm where you find a lovely mellow electric sitar riff played by Bjørn Charles Dreyer, synchronised backing vocals singing the same melody, all sat on top of a funk break. Beady’s intimate vocals slip in alongside subtle gospel style backing vocals that give the track a hymn like quality, with brooding Hammond organs polishing the way and congas adding a bounce.

The overall difference in sound on this record from her earlier work is the heavy use of backing vocals which brings a more pop and bluesy aura, as well as the keyboards being very prominent throughout each track with David Wallumrød playing the Prophet 5, Minimoog, Clavinet, grand piano and a variety of other keyboards. The very talented Bugge Wesseltoft guests on the album too, lending his fingers to some of the keys, the very man that encouraged Beady Belle into the studio back in 1999.

With no obvious guitar work over the album, the keys fill the guitar gap and add lots of layers to the mood. It’s a clean sound, no strings or horns, and somehow the music feels close to the listener. Beady has always had that divine quality of being able to make you feel like she is singing to you and that still remains, however it’s the different genres that she weaves in and out of over the course of the album that add a new dimension to her sound.

The pattern of this record moves up and down in tempo with each track. You get the slow ballad of ‘I Run You Ragged’ with it’s sunny Fender Rhodes followed by the more upbeat funky blaxploitation feel of the bass line and rim-shots of ‘Traces’ with it’s melodic spoken vocal, rising gospel backing vocals and lovely delays on vocal skats towards the end. Then you fall back into the downtempo ballad of ‘Hold Your Breath’ with it’s sweet and sleepy vocals, where once again, a gospel influence makes itself known as the track builds, lifting it into the sky.

The next two tracks step up a gear again with ‘Dedication’, the album’s title track of tom tom laden beats and a chunky bass line, played by her husband and founding band member Marius Reksjø. A minimal, soulful and funky sound giving way to Beady’s story telling vocals. ‘Mooring Line’ has an airy disco vibe, with wah wah keys and bass adding a nice spacey jazz funk feel to it. If it wasn’t for the quieter breakdowns of this tune, this would be a great dancefloor number.

I won’t spoil your listening discovery by writing about each track, but expect more carefully penned ballads, gospel blues and disco that transport you to a better place thanks to Beady’s sophisticated song writing and elegant, alluring voice as well as her carefully crafted band of accomplished musicians. I understand this record now, I’m happy with her current direction and I’m glad I took the time to let it sink in. Let it wash over you and grow into a thing of beauty and musical comfort as I will for a long time to come.

Ollie Lloyd