I’ve known our next contributor for a long time now and I was really chuffed to review her latest album, “Silence Surrounds Me” (a collaboration with Geoffrey Richardson), earlier this year. When I asked Jo to contribute, her reply was: “Cool that sounds great. How about top 5 guilty secret music… The kind of stuff that we wouldn’t like people to see in our collection but we love anyway ? If you like that idea mine are…”

Gina GJust a Little Bit” -- Gina G

I am a huge Eurovision fan. Any other activity on Eurovision day is not considered! And that particular song, because it was a time in my life where I had plenty of crazy folk who would join me in riotously dancing to it. 😉

 

 

Bonnie TylerTotal Eclipse of the Heart” -- Bonnie Tyler

When I was ten I went for a day with my family and their friends. I don’t remember where we went but I remember listening to Bonnie Tyler in the way and back. I sat next to a family friend who loved it and I think I just caught her adoration at the time.

 

 

One DirectionStory of my Life” -- One Direction

Ummmmm -- nice melody, nice boys ( blush).

 

 

 

 

Barry ManilowMandy” -- Barry Manilow

Two reasons.

1)  It’s very romantic and I’m a sickly cheese monster.

2) The Simpsons cartoon turned it into ‘ oh Mindy’ and ‘oh Margy’. There are at least three different versions you can sing all at once!

 

Barbra & NeilAnd lastly, “You Don’t Bring me Flowers” -- Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand

Again I’ve loved Babs since I was a kid. I used to practice the routine on rollerskates in “Funny Girl” as soon as I was old enough to have a pair. I think it’s such a sad, sad song about how people stop noticing each other when they get into the groove of life. Also I love that it’s a man and a woman. Usually the kind of ‘ you are not adoring me’ narrative tends to be sung by women. Again I’m a cheesy puff but it felt important when I first heard it. I find music snobbery difficult to handle as good songs are good songs but most of these songs touched me at a young age and lit up the very prone-to-be romantic side of me.

Silence Surrounds Me CoverThere’s quite a story behind Canterbury-based Jo Hook’s third album, “Silence Surrounds Me”, and it’s a story of talent, hard work, and optimism triumphing over adversity.  Jo’s first album, “Inside Out”, was released in 2000 and her second, “Settle Down”, in 2005.  Following the release of “Settle Down”, Jo was forced to take a sabbatical to deal with kidney failure, resulting in the donation of a kidney from a friend.  Following her recovery, Jo started writing again with, not surprisingly, a different perspective.  Another period of illness followed, leading to paralysis, before Jo finally approached multi-instrumentalist Geoffrey Richardson, also based in Canterbury, to record this album.  The partnership worked so well that it quickly became a joint project, Jo’s songwriting and singing being complemented by Geoffrey’s playing and arrangements.  The recording line-up was completed by Paul Townsend (drums) and Richie Bates (bass).

Jo’s style of songwriting is intensely personal and, unsurprisingly, there are many references to her recent experiences, although the minimally-arranged “Voice” cautions against identifying the performance too closely with the performer.  The overall message of “Silence Surrounds Me” is positive and hopeful, although “Smile” and “Wind Me Up” both have darker sides and deeper layers of meaning.  “Silence Surrounds Me” doesn’t reveal all of its secrets immediately; in the seemingly whimsical “Alexander Beetle”, for example, the title character is also a metaphorical representation of our choices of friends and lovers.  Apart from the relatively straightforward melancholy of “Mrs Zippy” and the love song “Like What You Like” (a lovely vocal duet with Geoffrey Richardson), most of the songs need a little bit of effort from the listener, but it’s an effort that’s generously rewarded.

The opening two songs effectively set the musical scene for the album.  “Eight” is topped and tailed by unhurried acoustic guitar interplay (with a bit of cello) with an uptempo middle third featuring the full band, and “Living is Easy” is driven along by a string section to a big finish with loads of backing vocals.  Lyrically, both of these songs seem to be inspired by the recent events in Jo’s life and the lyrics of “Living is Easy” provide the title for the album.  “Arial Ten” is another clever piece of wordplay, the title likening the ubiquitous font (or type) to the vanilla option, the average non-entity and the comparison that every artist dreads.  “Oldest Silence” is another intensely personal song built around revisiting an old, but not extinguished, relationship while “Inside Out” is an acoustic reworking of the title track from Jo’s debut album which works much better with traditional instruments than the beats and samples of the original arrangement.  “20,000 Bottles” closes the album in rollicking, upbeat folk style with fiddles, whistles and lots of layered harmonies.

Jo Hook has put together a very strong and varied set of deceptively simple songs on personal themes while also slipping in some social comment as well.  Her voice has returned as clear and true as ever with the occasional fractured edge to add feeling to the more personal songs.  The arrangements and playing of Geoffrey Richardson complement the songs perfectly, creating an album that amply rewards repeated listening.  It’s great to have you back, Jo.

“Silence Surrounds Me” is out now.  It’s available to download from iTunes and Amazon and to stream from Spotify.