Live Music + Gig Reviews

Danielle Spencer @ Madame JoJo’s, London

20 January 2010

If music is Danielle Spencer’s passion, it’s about time she stepped it up. The 40-year-old Australian released her debut album, White Monkey, in 2001, and hasn’t tried again since. Instead she’s been busy raising the two children she has with her husband, actor Russell Crowe.

But now she’s decided it’s time to try to make a bigger dent in our collective consciousness with new long-player Calling All Magicians, as produced by the legendary Tony Visconti, a man who’s polished records by everybody from David Bowie to Morrissey.
As part of the promotional build up, she tested a few of her songs out on a small audience at Soho’s Madame Jojo’s. Situating herself middle of the stage behind a keyboard, it’s no surprise to find that her music is traditional singer/songwriter territory. There’s not much experimentation with sound and there are no great shocks in store for the listener.

The first couple of tracks, Just A Thought and Fade To Black are decent songs, but there’s not much attempt to push the boundaries. It would be a major surprise if Spencer didn’t have a well-worn copy of Tori Amos‘s Little Earthquakes in her possession. From the breathy, often wordless vocals provided by the impressive backing singer to the free, rangy keyboard playing, there are certainly clues that she’s a fan.

But the material here is a more sanitised version. There’s little of the drama or the sonic adventure. And anyway, Little Earthquakes was released 18 years ago. It would take more spectacular material than this to regenerate what feels like a rather tired genre.

But if we accept that Spencer is not going to be pioneering, taken on face value, some of her melodies are genuinely very pretty. The album’s title track is enjoyable, but the set’s highlight is the delicate Around The Corner – and not only because Visconti himself appears on stage clutching, of all things, a recorder.

That aspect of the performance is more surreal than anything else, although it should be taken as a compliment that she’s able to attract Visconti, not just for producing credits, but also to take his place at the heart of her promotional activity. No, Around The Corner stands out mainly because the drums and the guitar are stripped away, leaving Spencer, her piano and her backing singer (and that recorder).

On Your Side, the forthcoming single, ends the short showcase set on a distinctly radio-friendly note. She leaves having proved that she can sing, she can play the piano, and she can reproduce the recorded content of her album faithfully in person. Having Crowe as a husband probably acts as both an albatross and a platform, but despite the attention that it’s giving her, Spencer doesn’t give the impression that she wants to trade off it. She wants her music to speak for itself. When it does, its inoffensiveness is likely to be both its strength and its weakness.

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Danielle Spencer @ Madame JoJo’s, London