MOBO nominated Jazz singer Julia Biel has recently released this gorgeous collection of solo piano songs called ‘Black and White Volume 1’. The title of this record is a reference to both the colours of the piano keys she plays and her wish to ‘invoke a spirit of togetherness’ in a divided world.
What strikes you most about this album is the distinctive atmosphere Biel’s voice creates from the first note. While her sound is uniquely her own it also echoes those jazz greats of the past like Billie Holliday.
Many of the songs on the album concern problematic relationships, the wish to make connections and how hard that can be in reality. On ‘Broken Little Pieces’ she muses about how ‘hurt people gonna hurt people’ and tries to makes sense of how we can deal with the painful reality of relationships.
There’s an undercurrent of unease on The Wilderness, where she admits to be ‘barely breathing’ and ‘choking’ on her tears. Wild horses bring her solace, as does dreaming of running free and finding beauty. ‘Shh’ begins with birdsong, a reminder of the power of simple pleasures in life: nature, music, love.
Three Little Words might sound like it should be a love song but this one is about the darkness of emotionally abusive relationships, and the suffering so many women endure in the hope of hearing ‘I love you’. It’s a stunning song containing powerful and disturbing truths.
On ‘Licence to be Cruel’ the relationship is a ‘battle’ with ‘guaranteed bloodshed’. Love hurts and scars – these songs offer a way to try and understand who you are in the aftermath. Little Girl is a plea for help, asking ‘is anybody out there / anyone at all?’ and this need to connect, to find answers makes the songs even more poignant. ‘Say It Loud’ pleads for honest communication, hoping for a better way to make love work.
You Could Turn a Rainbow Grey ruminates on someone who always brings you down, and how hard it can be to comfort and connect to those in that headspace. She knows despair and unfairness too but she never lets darkness drain the colour from her life.
Black and White Volume 1 is a melancholy delight, seeking answers, beauty and hope among the gloom of reality. Right now it’s a voice of calm and comfort in a chaotic world.