Impressive debut that veers a little too much into coffee table land...
Paul Sullivan 2007
Having already won over the hearts and charts of Europe (Top Twenty in Germany; Platinum in France), German-born chanteuse Ayo now brings her easy going soulfolk sound to the UK. The daughter of a Nigerian father and Romanian Gypsy, Ayo has recently spent time in London, Paris and NYC; meaning that not only are her genetic credentials satisfyingly heterogeneous, but there’s plenty of media-friendly ‘urban cool’ in her story too. Even more propitious perhaps, is the fact that Joyful, her debut album, was produced by none other than Jay “Norah Jones” Newland, a man who has oodles of experience in the jazz and soul worlds and a canny knack of crafting mainstream pop hits. “Down On My Knees,” the album’s opener, is set to a sparse reggae-lite groove and establishes Ayo as a capable, passionate vocalist who can switch it up between sultry/sexy and saccharine-sweet with consummate ease.
The subtly Latino lament “Without You,” with its warm accordion and hairline Hammond follows, along with the harmonica-driven “Letter By Letter,” and the strangely hypnotic waltz “And it’s Supposed To Be Love”.
The reggae-folk of “Only You” and the sassier skank of “Help Is Coming” buoy the album’s mellow mood, but doubts creep in when the record fails to gain any real pace, or break away from the same keep-it-safe formula that tends to plague Norah Jones’ records.
Ballads like “Watching You” break almost every cliche in the lyric-book - “You made my dreams come true”/”So addicted to your love”/You’ll always have the best place in my heart” - utterly dampening any genuine emotion wrought from Ayo’s voice. “These Days” and the finale “Neva Been” go the same route; ironically enough, the latter tune finally builds up to a much longed-for funk-soul workout...sadly, it’s too late. Overall, the songs here are technically good and Ayo is an authentic talent.
Perhaps in the hands of a different producer Joyful may have lived up to its name and created waves of ecstasy and exultation amongst the masses; as it stands, its appeal will be limited to the coffee table crowd.