Run for cover: Julia Fordham brilliantly reinvents pop hits

Its been almost thirty years since a then 26-year-old Julia Fordham released her eponymous debut album in 1988.  If you’ve somehow gone that long without seeing her perform, do yourself a favor and make a date for next weekend at Feinstein’s at the Nikko.

Smooth, supple and utterly bewitching, Fordham’s voice is a singular instrument. It glides from warm to cool with the elegant nonchalance of Sadé, from high to low with the interpretive smarts of Joni Mitchell (whose one-time husband, Larry Klein, produced several of Fordham’s 15 albums).

While some of her early recordings were overproduced, ornamenting Fordham with the slickly layered busyness of early 90s adult contemporary radio hits, her live shows and more recent records keep Fordham’s jazz-influenced vocals at the forefront. Her latest, The Language of Love is a stunner, showcasing Fordham’s eclectic taste with interpretations of well-known tunes that carry them far afield from their most famous renditions.

The album opens with a swinging piano-centric cover of “Call Me that sounds less like Debbie Harry than Ella Fitzgerald. Fordham’s spare, aching iteration of “Eleanor Rigby” beautifully conveys the loneliness at the song’s heart. The Police’s “Fragile” and Eurythmics’ “Who’s That Girl” get similarly stellar treatment.

Then there are Fordham’s stunning resuscitations of chestnuts like Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” and Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.” There’s an impish perversity in reinventing such hoary middle-of-the-road tunes as sophisticated cabaret fare alongside the likes of “Moon River,” which is also included on the album. These numbers make you realize the extent to which an interpreter of Fordham’s caliber can elevate unexpected material. They also reveal the sly wit that animates Fordham’s live shows.

Fordham has a devoted cult of followers here in the Bay Area and her past two Feinstein’s at the Nikko appearances sold out. Don’t miss your opportunity to experience this rarest of songbirds.