By Stephen Pennell
Despite the havoc wreaked on the music industry by Covid, 2021 is shaping up to be a vintage year for some of Birmingham’s most innovative and talented artists.
Truemendous got the party started with her album The Misdiagnosis of Chyvonne Johnson, a sprawling opus from an artist of huge potential; often hinted at and now gloriously realised. Hip-hop/jazz giant Soweto Kinch recently described her as “pound for pound one of the best emcees in the world” and I challenge anyone to listen to her debut long-player and disagree.
Reggae superstars UB40 treated us to Bigga Baggariddum, a collaborative celebration of irresistible melodies and grooves, including the joyful and uplifting singles Message of Love and You Don’t Call Anymore. The latter stars new lead singer Matt Doyle, formerly of KIOKO, who lays the ghost of Ali Campbell well and truly to rest with this stellar performance.
Not be outdone by her fellow legends, Joan Armatrading (CBE) released a new album of her own, Consequences, still ploughing her own unique furrow and displaying trademark strident vocals and songwriting as skilful as ever. As she approaches fifty years in the business with no sign of creativity on the wane, the first British female singer-songwriter to achieve international success is a national treasure.
Laura Mvula says of fellow Brummie Joan: ‘this is my heritage’, but in her own way, Laura is busy creating a legacy of her own. When she won Best Female at the MOBOs in 2013 it started a period of second city dominance as Lady Leshurr, Stefflon Don and Mahalia subsequently claimed the prize. Laura’s new album Pink Noise is her third, and like the other two has been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize - fingers crossed for third time lucky.
Another winner in the critical acclaim stakes is Katherine Priddy, who has just released her achingly beautiful debut The Eternal Rocks Beneath. Her voice is exquisitely delicate, her lyrics dramatic and affecting, her rhyming schemes as close to perfection as I’ve ever heard. The critics are mad for it, and so are the charts. I know folk-all about folk, but I know what I like, and this fits perfectly alongside Nick Drake’s three albums and Paul Weller’s True Meanings as examples of folk music that transcend the genre.
But enough of what I think - it’s make your mind up time. I’ve compiled a short Spotify playlist with a few highlights from above, along with a taster from an album that is destined to join this Best of Brum selection when released later this year - Hooligan by Jaykae.