After the explicit Englishness of her previous album Hilary James has taken an old direction. Those of you remember Spredthick will be very comfortable with this album – a collection of 20th century standards and classics.
There is an argument that Hilary’s voice is rather too pure for some of these songs. ‘Skylark’, one of three Hoagy Carmichael titles here, is perfect for her. You can imagine her at the microphone in a smoky 1940s nightclub, the band in white tuxedos with an audience of servicemen and their dates enjoying a few hours’ respite. It’s much more difficult for her to roughen those beautiful notes. She manages it for a while on the traditional ‘Frankie & Johnnie’ and uses the lower part of her register for Utah Phillips’ ‘Rock Salt And Nails’. Her version of ‘Need Your Love So Bad’ owes something to Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac although here it is stripped back to guitars and bass and doesn’t resort to massed strings.
Other songs here that really suit Hilary’s style are ‘They All Laughed’ and Patrick Sky’s ‘Separation Blues’ and she opens the album with one of her pieces, ‘Last Show Tonight’ – the break-up of a relationship cast as a performer’s valediction. I really hope it isn’t autobiographical. The final track from which the album’s title comes, is ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’, Hilary following Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday in covering this late night weepie.
Hilary’s band includes many of her regular supporters including lead guitarist Phil Fentiman and the multi-talented Simon Mayor (the original Spredthick). Simon Price plays drums but is replaced for one track by Dave Mattacks and Brendan Power adds harmonica to ‘Deep River Blues’. These musicians have worked together for so long that it’s second nature to them and You Don’t Know shows how good that can be.
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