Julia Messenger paid homage to her favourites in Simple Gifts, one of the American Songbook Shows commissioned by the Melbourne Recital Centre honouring great US composers. Opening with the Peggy Lee cracker Why Don't You Do Right, Messenger claimed the space, the band and the song as her own.
She has an intriguing and unique approach, using her voice as an instrument and giving each song its full range of emotions, from a sweet lisping vulnerability to passionate longing to tempestuous rage to glory. The journey she takes the listener on means you experience each song anew. Her version of Bob Dylan's We Shall Be Released gave this reviewer goosebumps. Even Crazy for You and Me and Bobby McGee sounded like new songs, and she almost had the audience tearing up in I Can't Make You Love Me. We heard Over the Rainbow, You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman and Kurt Weil's Surabaya Johnny (in English). Interestingly, Messenger gives each song its own dramatic story, there's a real arc from that first trembling tear to the intensity of full scale emotional fireworks. If it weren't so enjoyably thrilling it could almost be unsettling...
Messenger has a magnificent voice and gives it full range, her singing is note perfect and radiates nuance and power. She has been compared to many many different singers yet she is a singularly distinctive performer. She is keenly sought after overseas and has worked with a variety of top musicians and singers including Norah Jones. The MRC gig came after her performing in Finland on the Midnight Sun Jazz Train.
Her experience across a variety of styles, from classical electronica to rock to blues as well as jazz and being a composer and producer in her own right gives her shows a satisfying textured quality. Her band on the two nights at the MRC were all high status Melbourne jazz musicians, including drummer Danny Ferugia fresh from the Melbourne International Jazz festival.
It is only a matter of time before this girl is HUGE here. Julia Messenger has a voice to die for and can sustain a note like nothing on earth. Her vocal technique is original and impressive. Throw in her warm and unpretentious stage presence; this was a stunner of a show in every respect.
Melbourne Recital Centre presents
Julia Messenger Quintet
Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre | Cnr Southbank Boulevard & Sturt Street, Southbank VIC
Date: 6–7 July 2012
Tickets: $45 – $40
Bookings: 9699 3333