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East West
from the Virgin Julia Fordham page
[archived here without permission]

East WestDuring her ten year recording career, British singer / songwriter Julia Fordham has continually demonstrated a keen ability to draw listeners into her deeply personal songs. Whether singing with gentle introspection or volatile emotion, the aim is to make each moment as intimate and visceral as a shared heartbeat. With her talents sharper than ever, today Fordham prepares for the release of a brand new album, her fifth overall, on Virgin Records.

On East West Fordham explores an ironic twist to her musical alchemy, reaching new creative heights by stripping things down to the essentials. "It's less produced and arranged," she nods. "We tried to get a simpler vibe that cuts to the core, with minimal overdubs. It has a simplicity but also -- hopefully -- a depth."

Stark yet warm, the album's wide open atmospherics provide a perfect backdrop for the sumptuous vocals and incisive songwriting which have always been Fordham's forte. Recorded in Los Angeles, Fordham co-produced East West with Michael Brook (Jane Siberry, Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn), marking their first collaboration.

Fordham admits she was intrigued by Brook's cut-to-the-chase philosophy. "Michael's immediate approach was 'we'll start off with you playing acoustic guitar, and build a live band around you.' He was adamant about retaining the organic nature of the material. So we decided not to demo the tracks, and instead jumped straight into recording. Whereas I'm a precision-oriented person, Michael is very focused on achieving a vibe. He tends to go for feel over accuracy. So we tried to go with the flow."

The bittersweet "Killing Me Slowly" provides a shining example of the album's spontaneity. "As we were waiting to record another song, I began singing 'Killing Me Slowly,' and the band started to join in with me. This magical moment started to evolve," Fordham recalls, "and without saying a word, Michael set up some mics and went about capturing the moment. He effortlessly left behind Plan A and embraced Plan B as it was unfolding. No announcement or declaration; he just went and did it."

The Fordham / Brook chemistry is especially strong on two strikingly evocative songs -- "East West" and "Stay" -- recorded at Brook's house at the very end of the album sessions. "They were completely different from the majority of the tracks, which were cut in the studio with a live band, "Fordham notes. "In particular they showcase Michael's distinctive infinite guitar style."

Throughout East West Fordham taps into an emotional wellspring we all share -- especially on "I Can Tell You Anything." Of the latter she says "I think a lot of people are familiar with that notion -- where they're really close with someone and can talk about everything except their real feelings."

Among the album's notable contributors, The Pogues' James Fearnley plays accordion on "Fat Lady" and "I Can Tell You Anything"; Martin Tillman (who has worked with everyone from B.B. King to Tracy Chapman to Hans Zimmer) plays cello on "Wishing You Well"; and Paul PJ Moore of Blue Nile brings his deft keyboard touch to "Fat Lady" and "Killing Me Slowly." Throughout, East West features three musicians well known for their extensive work with Jackson Browne: keyboardist Jeff Young, drummer Mauricio Lewak, and bassist Kevin McCormick.

Of special note, on "More Than I Can Bear," the album's most soul-baring track, Fordham is accompanied on piano by her close friend, singer / songwriter Judith Owen. "I don't think you can do that kind of song with a session player," Fordham admits. "Judith and I are kindred spirits; we're cut from very similar cloth. Both of us are British -- although we met each other here in America -- and she happens to live down the street, literally 90 seconds from my front door."

The intimacy of her music provides the key to understanding Fordham's creative journey -- a journey which began during her childhood, growing up on the south coast of England in a household with no record player. She began writing songs at age 12, and by 14 was performing at local pubs. Following her move to London in her late teens, Fordham's rich voice and poignant songwriting earned her a record deal with Virgin Records.

Her 1988 self-titled debut opened the door for a series of critically acclaimed albums: 1990's Porcelain, 1991's Swept, and the 1994 disk Falling Forward. Over the years, Billboard hailed "her ethereal, soaring voice," while the Boston Globe declared "Fordham's voice is a precious instrument." "Julia Fordham may be a cool beauty," wrote Vanity Fair, "but she's also a chanteuse with soul....Fordham brings the listener to that perfect place between control and passion."

Her new East West is simultaneously a natural outgrowth of and a distinct departure from Fordham's previous work. Now living in Santa Monica, California, Fordham still possesses the emotional spark of that girl from England's south coast, but expresses those emotions with the incisive clarity of a worldly -- and dare we say wise-beyond-her-years -- young woman.

Ultimately, the title of East West reflects Fordham's travels -- physical, metaphorical, and philosophical -- and provides a summation of the many experiences which have shaped her art. "I see the album as one piece -- it's continuity is actually the essence of several different themes. There's very little separation between my life and my music. The music is sort of all encompassing and relentless." Exactly as it should be.