Some kinds of music are best enjoyed by the fireplace, whilst snuggled up in a fluffy quilt, cuddling a large mug of frothy cocoa. But instead, we head out to the Royal Albert Hall on a crisp, cold Friday November evening to see Rumer sing. She takes the first ‘half’ of a concert (actually a set of 7 songs – or most of an album’s worth) at the start of Jools Holland’s London date.
Rumer asks us to take her as she is …. well here goes, for someone who wants to sing about love, I think she comes across a tad sulky. There is moody, and there is cool and there is, obviously, smooth. But Sarah Joyce (Rumer) is a sulk.
I guess if you’re reading this, you’re perhaps one of the hundreds of cultured and knowledgeable music fans who joined me to fill what Jools Hollands describes as ‘an oversized Cake’ – the sacred space of the Royal Albert Hall – for an evening of Rhythm & Blues. But the start of what was to be a bumper jamboree bag of groovy boogie and blues based fun was slightly flattened, in my opinion, by the early slow combustion provided by Rumer.
But I assume that you, like me, also enjoy a slice of smooth jazz, a dash of light soul, and a glimmer of velvety voice thrown against a lightly painted background. And so you would certainly have been amazed by that astounding elderberry and ginger voice, white chocolate soup and tinged with bitter, smoky herbs. Rumer’s voice is mesmerizing. And I can officially declare that the search for the Holy Grail is now over – here is a voice that is truly equal to that of Karen Carpenter.
But Rumer and her band are not bootleg-carpenters. And she is not here to bring you cover songs, like a mere tribute artist. And it was not always jazz and blues for this London-based singer. She has been singing for her supper for a while now, and she has paid for her keep. Her singing career took off when she started singing as ‘Sarah Prentice’ with the indie folk band ‘La Honda’ at the start of the decade. After that she was discovered by Burt Bacharach, whisked over to California, and began a slow metamorphosis towards unravelling into what she has become- the newly discovered Queen of MOR radio. She started work with the greatly appreciated Brit composer Steve Brown (he wrote the score for the musical ‘Spend Spend Spend’. ) He shares some of the songwriting credits with Rumer on her ‘Seasons of my Soul’ album.
On stage, in a silky black dress, next to a glossy black grand piano, Rumer is dwarfed by the immensity of the setting. She tends to sing through her fringe. There is no movement from her except from her expressive hands that seem to be gently lifting each note, with perfect balance. She seems to be painfully shy on stage, like a delicate fawn caught in the spotlight. And this is the main problem with Rumer. On recording or on air, those luscious vocals and deep notes cannot be beaten. But on stage, before a huge crowd, she delivers neither the ‘pizz’ or the ‘azz’ that we are used to from a live performer. Take platinum selling Sade for example. She slinks across the stage like a panther lady hunting. She glows and she shines. Or Karen carpenter herself. Joyously thumping that drum set. Illuminating the stage, hypnotically swaying like a cobra. And what about Aretha? She is just a powerhouse of energy and spectacle. But Rumer’s act is all about minimalism and moody control. She sings as if she were using some kind of hidden mental strength. She wants to control your mind with her vapours. Non moving, non contentious, non confrontational. And ultimately, I’m afraid, non exciting.
Her big numbers were the tracks that have been given airplay. ‘Slow’ insinuates itself into your brain like a niggling worm, eventually coming out of your body in a breathy hum. Evocative of a long slow train journey to nowhere, this song is full of dark shades and woody textures. It is a fine song and very polished. ‘Aretha’, another single, takes us a little higher and has a touch more gaiety about it, but also has it’s dark places; “I don’t want to go to school …. Cos’ they don’t understand me, and the place is cruel.” This is a magnificent and confident song and it deserves a wider recognition.
But my favourite Rumer song is ‘Thankful’. This is syrupy and gorgeously nostalgic. It is very personal. Looking at life through a strawberry lens, it also weeps loss and regret in every note. The sweet rhythm and the tender melody create a melancholy atmosphere that takes you way back to the days of the Andy Williams Show or seated besides Val Doonican as he gently rocks.
So Rumer’s material is full of fires, fog and falling leaves. Like an applejar full of nostalgia and sweet soulful regrets. Her voice is like melted Ferrero Rocher – rich, elegant, dark, oozing. Her delivery is smooth and sophisticated. Lingering perfection. But as I dared to say, on stage, she is a little sullen.