'Like You Do'
You may recognise her from Coronation Street, but don't think that the music is anything short of brilliant.
Availability: 'Like You Do' is available at http://soundcloud.com/abi-uttley
Let me start with my daily overview of modern music...
because I know people would cry themselves to sleep, if I ever neglected to include it in any review. I am taking a different angle today. I have been curious about, and involved with, the female solo artists market for a few months. I have witnesses a great deal of young, fresh, and varied talent making a mark on the music world. Some have been up-and-coming Surrey talent, and there has been another sector of female wonders, who have combined jazz/swing, dark pop and rock. Each time I have been involved with reviewing the individual artists, it has staggered me what a range of sounds and sights are to be found. Not just with the lyrics and voices, but the incredible soundscapes that have been imagined and realised. Not that it should shock me, but compared to the male counterparts, the female market is so far ahead. Ironically two of the female solo artists I have reviewed in the last 2 months have been the least appreciative or enthusasitc about reading a positive review of their music. It is a fickle and unceratin industry anyway. I don't review music for personal pludit, or kudos. It is as interesting to see how people perceive having their work written about, as it is hearing it in the first place. I feel that if one wants to know where the most intruiging and fascinating music will be eminating from over the next year or so, I would first concentrate on the female market. Although, historically there has been a tendancy for male bands to be amongst the greatest music of all time, into the 21st century, where it easier and more accesible now to record music, than ever, the shift will change, and future historians should look at 2012/2013, as a time when the change began to happen. The band market is general is a crowded and murky lake. It is where the most demand emminates from, with every band hoping to acheive stardom. The solo artist, or those in smaller bands, have less of a pressure. They are not subjected to quick entropy or friction with bandmates. Nor are they tied down with variable and interchangable commitments and relationships. That market is like a marriage. About 50% of bands end with divorce. If you fly solo, or have a casual relationship, there may be loneliness or you may have to work harder and more determinedly, but at the same time, you have freedom to express yourself; work your own hours, and make your own success.
Let's get the unimportant point out of the way, first. Abi is extraordinarily beautiful, and not just in an everyday way. In a Hollywood, eye-watering way as well. I say unimportant, because it does not pertain directly to success, and has nothing to do with music. That said, it is probably due to a narrow-minded attitude in society, that stunning women, are given less thought and consideration, when concerned with music. In the current scene, those that are as stunning- Cheryl Cole for instance- are flyweight and plastic, and do not have the talent or personality to really win votes or credibility. Abi Uttley defies any glib characterisations and pigeon-holing, and lets her voice and music do the talking. She has had a varied and interesting acting career. As well as playing the somewhat arresting and vixen-like Cherry, in Coronation Street, she has enjoyed plaudit and recognition due to her roles on stage, screen and beyond. She is a multi-talented dancer and performs with Marc Otway, as part of acoustic duo Marc and Abi. They formed in 2011, and have been wowing Yorkshire and the north for a couple of years, recording a number of tracks, and gaining a sterling reputation. I could imagine if The Guardian, The Times, or the broadsheets were to be in my position, there would be imperious eyebrows and a lack of truth to their review. The fact that Abi is an actor would instantly cloud their thoughts, unaware that she is as capable of blowing people away with her music, as much as she is with her performances. For those like me, who are far more tolerant, and cultured, could not wait to hear her voice. It has been described, by freshonthenet.co.uk, as "a voice that melts chocolate".
The intro is not what anyone may expect. There is a remarkable confidence in it. The likes of Jessie Ware and new Leeds-based talent like Little Violet and Rose and the Howling North would employ a similar punch. For anyone, so far, who was dubious as to the ability and potential of Uttley, are well and truly corrected and shut up within a few seconds. There is a toe-twinkling, balletic piano dance and twirl, combined with jazz accompaniment. It is a sound of swing, combined with soulful pop-cum-'60s and '70s jazz, all in one. The effect is disarming and awesome, and put a smile on my face straight away, and straightened me in my seat. It sounds like something that could soundtrack a stylish and mysterious indie film, injected as the song is, with a similar smile and style. The voice that comes through has a Laudate Dominum affect on the senses. There is no twee and processed modern pop vocal; no bleated histrionics. Instead there is a smoky, seductive and gorgeous calm that emanates forth. In keeping with the sonic tone of the intro, the vocal is reminiscent of the jazz and blues icons of the '40s, '50s and '60s; there is a black and white, film noir scintillation to the atmosphere. Speaking of "silky thread of words you spin", Uttley whispers and tantalises with her entreaty. The scene, one might imagine, could be set at a curious and romance-worthy bar such as The Mayor of Scardey cat Town. There would be low lights, quirky tableauxs, and a lingering tension. Our heroine is sat alone, ruminating, drink in hand. Whether we are in London, Bradford, Paris or New York, a man enters. Whether he is a boyfriend, friend or stranger, it is said that: "You catch me eyes/Just to watch me fall". The vocal is at once teased and lured, before it is syncopated and felled by gravity. The lyrics are delicious wordplay, intelligent and witty, and the way the vocal delivery and words are close knit and apropos is clever and wonderful. As 0:30 mark passes, the vocal switches from sweet knee-tremble to powerful, yet controlled swell. The backing is delicate and low enough in the mix so it adds to the beauty and mood, yet never interrupts or steals focus. Uttley's voice has pleasing tones of Chrissie Hynde (at her most composed), as well as Christina Aguilera, Yorkshire lass Cherie Gears, as well as shades of Eva Cassidy. There are a lot of Cs there, but they are all appropriate and well-informed. There is a wide appeal and universal brilliance to her vocals: beautiful and seductive enough to appeal to the stuffy media sect, metal-heads and pop/jazz/soul lovers, alike. When the song ramps up, and the pace quickens and bubbles, Uttley feels: "Maybe/I am just a fool", unsure, as she is as to whether "the rhythm of your words/Beats to the rhythm of your heart". There is a shift of temperament, as well as signature and sound. The brilliant words meet with beautiful little musical changes and avenues. Between 1:07-1:08, there is a pause, that comes after a fast-paced and energetic performance. From 1:08 on, the vocal again purrs, and licks its lips, as the piano and drum have a similar reverence and steadfastness. The tale of regret and heartache continue: "Feelings/That you stole from me". It is delivered with an Aguilera-esque growl and gutsiness. It seems that the path of ill-gotten or forgotten love is never smooth or straight-forward. There are bumps in the road, but our leading lady is adept at surveying and beating the blues. When the chorus comes back in and it is claimed that: "When you sing it like you do/You make me feel it's true". The former-beau has a lot of never, and the lying skills of a sociopath; he has a way of fibbing for his own cause and making our heroine feel like any anger and regret is well-deserve or even unwarranted. It is perhaps not surprising that the song is so tense and sharp of narrative, seeing as Uttley is an (impressive) actor. There is an authentic conviction. Believing the words is half of the battle to win fans and minds, and Abi is already half way there, within only a few lines. As the chorus comes to swing back for another punch, there is another unexpected shift. There is a little sprinkle of piano/percussion, and a line; followed by music; followed by vocal. There is a call and response thematic that runs through. It is unexpected and pleasing, and keeps the song turning, twisting and fascinating. Not many artists would change the pace and composition of a chorus. The chorus is your U.S.P. and most memorable part of the track, and by changing the tone, it adds an extra layer of quality and conviction. When the mantra is repeated again, the vocal powers up, trills like a bird song, and hides any inner turmoil with a sexy and swaggering display of power. With a few glistening notes of Eva Cassidy/Kate Bush ethereal beauty, the song ends, and so does our film piece. The lights are down, the night is over, and all that is left is to retreat to bed, and take stock of life, love and the future.
Let's get all the good vibes completed first. Uttley is indeed a startling and intoxicating beauty, with a variegated and varied C.V. In a modern market, sometimes that is all it takes to shift units, and gain drools from a fickle male mind, and gain jealous female bitchiness. If you go into the song, predisposed to be judgemental and narrow, you will ultimately look stupid. I was not expecting to be so bowled over as I was, but there is a tonne to recommend from such a tight and sharp song. The music acts like a heartbeat and blood flow; it ushers the song along, and supports it where needed. It acts as a ghostly chill and warm rain, that adds atmosphere and beauty in equal measures. The lyrics are capable of stealing the show completely. I am not stereotypical in saying that well over 90% of modern lyricists are incapable of penning intelligent or engaging words. Even in the solo market, a vast majority of lyric sheets lacks soul, wit, sparkle, sass and heartache. There may be an odd memorable line here and there, but 'Like You Do' never lets up the pace or quality. It is noteworthy and quote-worthy from start to finish. An impressive and wonderful achievement. As a songwriter of 11 years myself, I have been sneakily jotting down some of the lines, in the vain hope I can come up with anything quite as good. The vocal, to me, is the true wonder here. In spite of the fact that the song has a singular theme- in the sense that it is about a single subject- the vocal shifts styles, genres and time signatures at various intervals. There are nods to jazz, the blues and folk. At 1:16 there is a little hit of South London/Amy Winehouse. Abi's voice dips and rises; tabulates and bursts, making the song ecstatic and gripping. She has an incredible power in the softer edges. She can match Aguilera, Bush and Cassidy when it comes to hushed and spellbinding stillness, and has the ability to project a huge belt and beat when required. In fact the voice keeps moving and electioneers thoroughly. It is impressive how the vocal delivery matches the lyrics, and certain tones and shapes are employed to bolster and highlight what is being sung about. Uttley has a clear understanding of emotional impact and impressing casual listeners, as well as 29-year-old music obsessives such as me. The track will appeal to nearly everyone, as there are no gimmicks, auto-tuning or pointless sampling. It is a straight talking and captivating little number, that never overstays its welcome or wander aimlessly. I am currently in love with the Cuckoo Records stable, based out of Leeds. They are producing a large crop of varied and staggering artists, and if Abi would be snapped up I am sure, should this track be sent to them. It is an impressive feat and memorable track. I even caught myself singing it just now, and sure I will have it bouncing in my brain and feet for a long time.
There are literally no real negatives; more constructive suggestions. I feel that Abi has such a strong voice and set of lyrics, that perhaps the music needs to notch up and challenge for superiority. If there was a bit of brass, a few strings or a guitar lines in the mix, it would add weight. If you listen to Little Violet, Rose and the Howling North, or even Jonnythefirth, who are based just down the road from Uttley, they have utilised this. None of those artists can match the lyrics or impact that Uttley puts forth. Little Violet has jazz/swing-era brass,m trumpets and sway; Rose' has ghostly and dark guitars (the sort you hear on a Tarrantino soundtrack), whilst Jonnythefirth has White Stripes-esque blues guitar, alongside Jake Bugg/Arctic Monkey-style clout and electronic drawl and hammering. Whether there is a fiscal constraint, or a lack of willing and available musicians, but Uttley has the talent to employ these elements, and lift a song like this into the stratosphere. Marc Otway took care of guitar and piano, and does an incredible job. Just imagine how powerful and resonant the song would be with a few more elements. Whether too Uttley wants to keep it simple and showcase the lyrics and her voice, may be a reason too. It is the only thing I would suggest. If there is any sort of fuller band sound in the works, or keeping the sound faithful to what is displayed here, I for one will be encapsulated. There doesn't need to be any sort of additional sound to make the sound or song come alive; maybe more instruments would clutter the song or distill the potency.
Abi has been performing with Otway for a while and they blend talents beautifully. I hope three things. One; that they keep working together and blending their abilities and tones, as they work wonderfully. I am keen to hear more songs. Uttley will be required soon enough to produce an E.P. This is not subject to public opinion. There will be a massive appeal and fan base waiting to pounce and embrace any new songs. She could fill a few E.P.s and a full album will little need to deviate too far from her personal and effective template. If this is in the works, or back of her mind, it is something that she needs to consider, as there is a definite market and hole to be filled. Thirdly, I am hoping that in the future she stays loyal to her hometown and part of the world. There is a temptation, usually- well you hit it big- to move to London or a bigger city. It is a bit cliche, but felt by those artists that that is where the money and contacts are, and where, ultimately, your market are waiting for you. I have mentioned Cuckoo Records, but there is a swell of Mancunian talent bursting through. The north is where the talent is, and Uttley will find many collaborators, labels, cohorts and supporters much closer to home. That isn't to say that the lights of London will not call for her; they will. It is just that she can do a lot of huge and promising work in Yorkshire. There is a modern scene filled with female talent that only tick a few boxes on the checklist. In terms of the balance of quality and quantity, she has more in common with the likes of Jessie Ware, Laura Marling and Adele- guys that are making huge waves, getting a load of airplay, and selling a magnitude of records. On the basis of one track, it is difficult to say what the next step is, and whether the quality can be maintained. If you can produce a number like this so early in your career, then there will be little chance of a dip in impact. I cannot wait for the next move. I hope that there will be a lot of fans waiting for Uttley, because that will give her the confidence and ammunition to get into the studio again and make some beautiful music. For now, have a few listens of 'Like You Do' and check out what she is doing right now. Spread the good word, folks. Abi Uttley is a name you will be hearing for a long time, soon enough. I'm pretty sure...
... you will not disagree.