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CHERRY LEE MEWIS Heard It Here First Cherry Jam Music CLMO3 (2012)

Cherry Lee Mewis

From her humorous name to the Andrews Sisters style harmonies, Cherry Lee Mewis revels in everything retro as she explores an eclectic but compelling mix of jug band, ragtime blues, gypsy jazz and delicate shuffles topped by ever present backing vocals.

However, 'Heard It Here First' is more than a mere celebration of the past, as she brings her own vivacious approach to bear on an album that pulls together heartfelt, humorous and poignant lyrics via her impressive phrasing and an essential musical partnership with guitarist Max Milligan. And while the album is by no means an outright success, as her vocals occasionally struggle to match her own lofty ambitions, the music is played with the same kind of passion and feel that Cherry brings to her vocal delivery.

In some ways 'Heard It Here First' is a gamble - potentially two steps forward and one step back - because it's a niche record that needs radio play to break out of her self imposed stylistic corner. The songs are certainly good enough to appeal to a wider audience, from the jump blues and relationship metaphors of 'Man Overboard' and the humorous sexy shuffle of 'Too Much More' to the outright gypsy jazz of 'Long Distant Lover', all of which have mainstream radio potential. But as ever you suspect events will be dictated by factors external to the musical excellence.

This is niche record that does indeed blow away some of the tired old blues clichés and will probably reinforce her existing loyal fan base, but it's also an album that demands a wider audience.

As it is Cherry's vivacious approach drags even the most recalcitrant listener through 11 thoughtfully penned tracks that reignite the old jug band meets ragtime style of 'Keep It Clean' and explores the gypsy jazz stylings of 'Long Distant Lover'.

She digs deep for her lyrical vulnerability and adds an aching vocal on the love song 'Way To Your Heart'. Again it's the kind of song that given the oxygen of airplay might capture the public's imagination; 'When sleep won't come around and it's out of reach, I'll sing you a lullaby'.

The band combines superbly to bring acoustic colour and a down-home feel to 'On Loan'. It's a tale of sexual jealousy on which Cherry pushes her vocal range and works hard on her phrasing, but it's also a song in need of some production gloss though Max's lovely slide work does it best to give the arrangement impetus. And as if to emphasize the point, the following 'Just Cant Live Without You' is everything the previous song isn't, combining Nick Slaters' resonator and Max's mandolin on a snappy arrangement that coaxes a more relaxed vocal from Cherry who unravels ever last drop of meaning from the heartfelt lyrics.

The band appears happiest on the sumptuous grooves of 'Goin' Down (To Memphis Tennessee)' on which Cherry adds a celebratory whoop and some scat singing on the outro and 'Hunt You Down' which features her best vocal on the album. Both songs work well because of the combination of the band's collective musical spark and Cherry's intuitive phrasing, as we're offered a glimpse of the albums essential style.

'Heard It First Hear' is an enjoyable blues based work that stretches the genre and delights with its twist and turns and musical dexterity. It's all brought to life by Cherry's exuberant personality and expressive vocals which leave the kind of emotive bluesy imprint that draws the listener in. 'Heard It Here First' is a fiercely independent record and one that deserves to realise it crossover appeal.


Review by Pete Feenstra


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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