Reality ShowJazmine Sullivan’s third album comes after a five-year break and follows a period of personal turmoil and subsequent self-discovery for the big-lunged Philly r’n’b singer. “Reality Show” may suggest something both toe-curlingly revealing and tackily brash but Sullivan’s elegant but charged timbre and monologues couldn’t be further from this. There is also some fun to be had to here though, more than might possibly be expected given the reason for Sullivan’s break, and a distinct cohesiveness throughout which given the scattershot of styles chosen is quite an accomplishment. And this is an album that Sullivan has invested heavily in; co-producing, writing and selecting material that reflect her choices as an artist returning to the game where even a year out can result in negative speculation.

Dumb” is the smart, albeit misleading, opener and first single of “Reality Show”. Smart because it immediately reconnects to the Sullivan sound of 2008’s, Grammy-nominated “Bust Your Windows”; it’s operatic, audacious and built around that mesmerising pure soul voice. It’s also a very good song and sounds very much of its time. Misleading in the sense that it doesn’t reflect the rest of the album, at least sonically. It makes its point, sets the scene before retreating to allow for more subtle and unexpected sounds.

Mascara” is one of a triptych of songs that have a sixties girl group sentiment and sound. The most contemporary sounding of the three, “Mascara” is a lyrically ambiguous song that at first seems to be a ‘make the best of yourself’ ode to faking it when you’re actually breaking down a little inside. A closer listen confirms that Sullivan has adopted the persona of a defensive, insecure woman who hates other women and would do anything to keep hold of her partner, whatever the compromise in her dignity. It’s smart and buoyant and proves Sullivan can trip up a complacent listener. “Stupid Girl” is a juddering, snare rolling retro track that brings to mind Mark Ronson’s more playful Amy Winehouse productions and the relentless Motown thwack of “If You Dare” sends Sullivan soaring above a positive-thinking anthem that has genuine energy and power.

Silver Lining” is a glorious, airy late seventies r’n’b style mid-tempo track where vocally Sullivan conveys desperation, optimism and indifference over three minutes so effortlessly that it’s hard to avoid comparisons to the truly great soul vocalists from the past four decades. “#HoodLove” also has moments where it’s possible to believe that Aretha Franklin herself has made a hard -- nosed but ultimately romantically blind-sighted (‘he aint always right, but he’s just right for me’) ghetto tribute. “Masterpiece (Mona Lisa)”, an ode to self-acceptance, takes its sonic cues from eighties Quincy Jones balladry and the electro-disco of the brilliant and inspired “Stanley”, an obvious highlight here, features a surprising sample of Annie’s Scandi-pop hit “Greatest Hit” of all things. A put upon girlfriend, Sullivan urges her feckless Stanley to wake up, smell the roses and ‘take a bitch to dinner!’

At a time when female r’n’b is confidently stepping out of the rut it tended to find itself in during the EDM days of the early 2010s and could indeed be heading for another renaissance period, Jazmine Sullivan has made an album which sounds reassuringly timeless in spite of its various retro influences. Although there are still many detailed and modern sonic flourishes here, the spotlight, as might be expected, falls on Sullivan’s exceptional vocal abilities and for the best part, the songs are more than good enough to support her talent. There may be little here that is ground-breaking but Reality Show has little use for trick photography or fashionable gimmicks. Jazmine Sullivan is a shocking scene stealer and is wonderfully showcased here on what may well be her most thought out and intriguing album.

Product DetailsLaura Mvula is a British soul singer and this her debut album; let’s leave it at that shall we? The accompanying brouhaha and hyperbole  should be ignored and put aside with immediate effect and instead let’s concentrate on what’s actually on offer here, what we can listen to and is it in fact any good?

Like The Morning Dew” opens “Sing To The Moon” with a vocal that sounds like a hybrid of many singers, British predominantly, that sound a little bit like Amy Winehouse, maybe some Emile Sande thrown in for good measure and then someone old school and monumental like Nina Simone or Billie Holliday. Laura Mvula has an arresting voice then, albeit one you think you may have heard before. There are also choirs, luscious harps, big orchestras, military drums, trip hop beats occasionally and things can become very quiet before they go very loud; it’s what you might call ‘organic’. You might think of the The Carpenters or indeed The Beach Boys in respect to the multiple harmonies. It’s nice and it’s pretty more than anything, which may be a surprise given this seemingly crowded sonic template, and things continue in this vein for the first four songs, the most pop song on here, “Green Garden”, being the highlight.

Just when I begin to here to fear that maybe Mvula was going to suffer from Florence syndrome where every track followed the same structure, the same huge chorus, sonic crashes but without too much of an actual song to grab onto, my ears stood to rapid attention  with the arrival of the fifth song, ”Is There Anybody Out There?” Airy and menacing and haunting, it’s a fantastic song and an incredibly detailed and warm arrangement with Laura and a double bass sounding lonely but in complete command of the deserted universe she appears to be trapped in. If I had to make a comparison it would be to Bjork and I wouldn’t bandy that around willy-nilly, somewhere between the “Homogenic” and “Vespertine” albums when her classical and pop influences merged beautifully and the avant garde just began leaking in and hadn’t yet taken over.

From this point on things begin to take flight and on occasion, soar.’”Father, Father” diverts somewhat from the musical richness that prevails here being predominately piano with Mvula’s strident, defensive vocals sounding like a hymn, a prayer to an absent parent.  It sounds like a traditional song but, due mainly to the odd phrasing of her performance particularly in the repetition of the last minutes but modern too.   “That’s Alright” is self-possessed and uplifting, a non-preachy ‘fuck you’ to race and body image stereotypes and expectations and is another great song.  Mvula writes or co-writes every track here. “I Don’t Know What The Weather Will Be” and the title track “Sing to the Moon” are mid tempo and gorgeously spacious and “Flying Without You” is a show-stopping, whooping mix of girl group pop and musical theatre; think “South Pacific” meets the Sugababes but played out in a church, the on-going lyrical celebration of individuality and freedom continues to be the predominant theme of this album.

Like Lianne La Haines, Adele, Florence and, er, Ellie Goulding before her there are many accolades being thrown at Laura Mvula at the moment and we should all do our best to ignore all of this, they just cloud the issue. She isn’t like any of these artists and considering she only has less than 15 songs to her name so far we should wait and see what happens. Mvula seems open to many things and is almost certainly in love with making music and it can take some time before a performer finally becomes the artist that truly fits them. Until then this is an invigorating, beautiful piece of work and I recommend you listen to it.

OK, I’m sorry that this is going to be London-centric but, at the moment, you can only see this exhibition in London at the moment and that’s just the way it is.  So, my apologies to anyone who can’t actually get into central London before the end of August, but there are plenty of links to online resources to give you a flavour of this show.

Gallery Different is easy to find, about halfway between Northern Line stations Tottenham Court Road and Goodge Street on Tottenham Court Road, and surrounded by loads of welcoming pubs and interesting places to eat (the Riot Squad always researches background thoroughly).

“London is Calling” is an exhibition featuring music-related artworks by sculptor Guy Portelli, painters Chris Myers and Morgan Howell, mixed media artist Keith Haynes and photographers Charles Everest, Michael Ward and Nathan Browning.  If you’re interested at all in the iconography of pop and rock music, you should really make the effort to see this exhibition.

The photography is all excellent, but the highlight for me is the recently-published selection of Charles Everest’s photos from the 1970 Isle of Wight festival featuring some absolutely stunning images of Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix and many other great images of a hugely important event in British social history.  Nathan Browning’s work is based on the photographic image, but with the addition of painting, ink and poetry pushing it towards multi-media territory.

Moving on to 3 dimensions, Guy Portelli’s dynamic sculptures successfully capture the essence of artists such as John Lennon and The Who while avoiding the stereotyped figurative representations which are so common in  collections of British cultural ephemera.

Keith Haynes’ pieces are thoughtful and often ironic, constructed from original artefacts stripped down and reconstructed as creative images.  The majority of the pieces are constructed from original vinyl singles and albums, with the exception of the wonderful “Acid Queen” which is made entirely from Smiley badges and is a piece which anyone interested in popular culture should make the effort to see.

Chris Myers’ paintings focus on divas through the popular music era and the Amy Winehouse pieces here are sympathetic representations of a great British torch singer while Morgan Howell delivers larger than life acrylic representations of iconic seven-inch singles from Elvis to The Clash.

Popular culture exhibitions in London can be very tightly-focussed affairs featuring 1 era or 1 medium but “London is Calling” covers a period of 50 years and encompasses photography, painting, sculpture and various multi-media forms.

If you live in or near London (or you’re visiting), go and see this exhibition.  If not, check out some of the links; you won’t be disappointed.

At about 5:30 on Saturday afternoon, I opened a text from one of my oldest friends which told me that Amy Winehouse had been found dead at her home.  A quick check on the BBC website confirmed the news that one of Britain’s most troubled performers was finally at peace.  The headline which, unsurprisingly, focussed on her age also confirmed that she had joined what Kurt Cobain’s  mother, Wendy, called “that stupid club” of stars who died at the age of 27.  It’s a nice convenient piece of pigeonholing, but it’s lazy because it misses the point by a long way.

The rock stars referred to by Wendy O’Connor (Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin) died in a short period of time in the late 60s, and Cobain died in 1994.  Amy Winehouse confronted her demons in the glare of the ubiquitous and unforgiving instant news culture of the new millennium, where any dodgy performance is only a smartphone away from worldwide exposure.  Even Cobain’s death was pre-internet; we all knew it was going to happen, but our updates only came every 7 days in the music press.  The 60s deaths came as a complete surprise, because drug habits were kept within the performer’s inner circle and only became public property when the performer died.

Amy Winehouse’s problems were probably with her from the start of her performing career at stage school, but became increasingly public as she became more successful.  Her first album “Frank” was critically and commercially acclaimed, but the problems really started with the success of “Back to Black”.  The album was hailed, quite rightly, as a modern classic and Amy Winehouse was thrust into a spotlight which she found increasingly difficult to deal with.  The pressure came not only from the music press but from every imaginable direction; television, radio, newspapers (tabloid and broadsheet) and of course the internet.  Any step out of line immediately became public property and each exposure seemed to raise the stakes.

This isn’t an attempt to sanctify to Amy Winehouse but it’s time to stop the demonization process which the British media launched after the success of “Back to Black” in 2006.  She made the same mistakes that people everywhere make every day; she listened to the wrong people, she got romantically involved with the wrong people and she thought that she could find the answers to her problems in drugs and alcohol.  Unfortunately, she made those mistakes very publicly and in the spotlight of a censorious, prurient and unforgiving media circus.

In the light of all of her long-standing problems, it wasn’t surprising to hear of Amy’s untimely death on Saturday, particularly after the ill-advised European tour which ended with the much-publicised recent appearance in Belgrade.  She should have been one of the UK’s greatest ever jazz and soul singers but she only leaves a legacy of 2 albums released so far.  Stick “Back to Black” in your CD player or find it in your media player and listen to it.  That’s how you should remember Amy Winehouse.