It’s always good to be given the opportunity to get rid of labels that are attached to artists. However well-intentioned they are at first, designed to provide some point of reference when an artist has little or no previous public footprint, somehow these labels seem often to stick around far longer than they should.
With the exception of “the artist formally known as Prince” (exceptional in so very many ways), the labels usually refer to previous bands, or to early career appearances on other artists recordings, and so the potential listener can approach a new recording with some clue as to what might be found. Or with some pre-judgements as to whether it will be liked!
We – by which I mean those of us who imagine that our opinions are useful or artistic enough to be committed to print – can sometimes be forgiven for maintaining the use of labels when some artists fail to develop any kind of real identity in their own right, or when the new music continues to fail to carve a foothold in any particular niche, or – and this happens all too often – when the new music is persistently disappointing.
So you will see Sophia Marshall referred to as “one half of the acclaimed duo The HaveNots”. This label is useful to a point – the point perhaps where fans of punk or EDM turn away. But it doesn’t really prepare the listener fully for what’s to come. And in light of her new recording, due for release on October 6th, it really doesn’t do her full justice, as good as The HaveNots were.
With this new album, the follow up to 2016’s “The Paper Thin EP”, this reviewer is delighted to abandon the “one half of” label, and declare that Sophia Marshall is fully fledged and complete in her own right.
You’ll probably find the album in the Americana section of your on-line store, another throwback to the HaveNots history. But this collection is a broader blend than that, comprising a range from airy pop (from the opening track, the title track and her new single, “Bye “Bye”), to stripped back a capella folk in the closing track “Drunken Sailor”.
In between, there’s a really quite delightful collection of songs that are at times deceptively simple and simultaneously sophisticated, reminiscent of… well, many many things. “Catch Me” is a stand out example of a song that brings to mind shades of Thea Gilmore, Sarah Maclachlan, Judie Tzuke and Jann Arden. Which suggests that the track might be confused or cluttered, but it’s anything but!
It is in fact, like the whole album, clean, controlled and very well put together, with sure-footed but light-touch production, and delicate arrangements that are held together strongly by Marshall’s gentle and at times fragile vocals.
“Bye Bye” is a showcase of confident songwriting and sensitive performance, and should be more than enough to banish the “one half of” labels for good.
By Bye is out on 6th October