It's but a short time since the last passed. Maybe this was at least partly responsible for the emotional depths she plumbed and brought to the surface, for the edification of ears, heart and, yes, soul. On this level, it doesn't matter what she sings, it's what she does with it (to paraphrase The Castle). And, surely, this must be the test of the singer's singer, which she unquestionably is. Where does it come from? Well, since she comes from New Zealand, perhaps she's benefited from the Maori tradition. Or her father's Fijian heritage. Or, back further still, her familial connections to Wales. Yet none of this seems nearly enough to explain her beguiling endowment.
At 5, I read, she was belting it out, in a church choir. Ah, gospel roots! Now we're talking. And she was awakened to 'black' music, per se. (But what's this, she also hooked into Saturday Night Fever? C'mon, let's not spoil the yarn!) Anyway, at a tender 17, she forded the ditch, to Sydney. All sorts of interesting moments ensued in the vibrant scene that prevailed, circa late '80s, including playing in Modern Man, with Andrew Klippel (son of seminal sculptor, Robert). If your nose & noodle survived that heady, coke-fuelled 'greed is good' era, you might recall The Honeybees, a girl-group specialising (sensibly enough, for a trio) in three-part harmonies. Her penchant for the likes of Chaka Khan brought her to the attention of Jackie Orszaczky, then fronting The Godmothers (and vice-versa). They fell for each other, musically and romantically, &, it was a marriage made in heaven. But I digress; if only to suggest a picture, a pattern, a backdrop, to begin to account for the phenomenon that is, or ought be, Tina Harrod.
Last night served as one of a series of launches for her second solo album, Worksongs; an apt title, implying all the pathos and feeling of which she's capable; (I'd say effortlessly so: I'm sure it sounds effortless, but my suspicion is anything that sounds so authentic and wrenching must take a corresponding toll). On it, apparently, she makes an eclectic selection cohesive, with the unmistakably kettle-cooked, whiskey-smooth, smoky, velvety, rich, chocolate Harrod stamp (no wonder they named a superlative store after her). Her perfectly contoured, cultivated and controlled instrument (even when 'out of control') crosses genres, from a very jazzed, yet utterly undiluted take on Stevie Wonder's edgy, politicised, no-hold-barred black-and-proud Big Brother, to Nick Drake's enchanting Riverman; Billie Holiday's sad, sardonic Comes Love (Brown-Stept-Tobias), to Monk's sultry Round Midnight. And so it goes. Whether penned by Dylan or Newley, sung by Ma Rainey or Nina Simone, Harrod reconstructs and reinvents everything, to make it her own. This not through any musical megalomania, but inevitable talent. TH is the kind that covers not, but remakes, in her own image. In documenting her taste in adoptions, let's not forget her skill in compositions, such as a masterful reworking of Such A Long Way Home. And let's not mistake her for a playsafe singer: what about a pleading rendition of Portishead's Glory Box?
When I talk about Tina Harrod, incidentally, I mean the inseparable quartet that includes the robustly finessed Hamish Stuart, on drums & percussion, empathic Jonathon Zwartz, on upright bass, and sublime Matt McMahon on acoustic and electric pianos. McMahon's meanderings, above all, tinkle and twinkle like so many stars in the night sky. None have to dress to impress: they add a whole, other dimension to Tina's performance, which is saying quite something.
If I'm not mistaken, we heard all her Worksongs and bore witness to some of the love, blood, sweat and tears which have gone into making them. We also heard Here Comes The Sun & To Love Somebody, with a Motown makeover.
You don't know what it's like, to love somebody, the way I love Tina Harrod. Unless you've heard her, of course.
Fri 1 Aug, 9.30pm The Basement. $20 Bookings 02 9251 2797
Sat 16 Aug, 8.30pm SIMA @ The Soundlounge, Seymour Centre
Fri 19 Sep, 8.30pm The Vanguard, $20 Newtown
Sat 20 Sep, 8.30pm Brass Monkey $16 / $18 Cronulla