… she will introduce the listener to the playground of life with the all the ups and downs that we encounter on the journey.

Self Release – Available at Bandcamp

Fiona Ross (vocals & piano); Gibbi Bettini (guitar); Derek Daley (bass); Marley Drummond (drums); Loren Hignell (saxophones & flute); Dave Boa (trumpets); Ashaine White (backing vocals); Warren Woodcraft (percussion)
Guest appearance on ‘Push Me Around in a Pushchair’ – Nancy Richardson

Over the course of a stunning series of albums that began with Twist of Blue in 2016 through to last years all acoustic set, 7 Songs in 7 Days, Fiona Ross has always been determined to follow her own path. Her influences are many and varied but can often be difficult to discern as she sweeps you away, inviting you into her own musical universe.

One of the attributes of the music is that Ross has built a core band that are now intuitively able to interpret and perform her songs with precision and passion. This new album takes the music a stage further and following the acoustic recording brings the full band back together in the studio to perform some new songs with some exciting and fresh arrangements.

There is a different vibe and feel to the music that moves on from Red Flags and High Heels released in 2021, and this is largely down to Ross’s desire to expand her brass writing for the band, yet still somehow paradoxically comes across in a more relaxed mood that permeates throughout.

This newfound confidence in the expanded arrangements is immediately heard in the rhythmically compelling opening song ‘When Will You Leave My Mind’ that features an excellent guitar solo from  Gibbi Bettini and the punchy horn arrangements on ‘I Want to Know’ in contrast with Loren Hignell’s flute solo.

Hignall’s alto saxophone accompanying Ross’s vocal on ‘The Small Things’ has a lovely touch on this gentle reflection on the small things in life that we really should appreciate. The saxophonist also takes delightful solo on ‘The Best Version of Me’ in an outing that captures lyricism and a powerful tone.

Ross’s sense of fun is to the fore on the wonderful ‘The Don’t Stop Just Breathe Ragtime’ that switches from pre-jazz ragtime to the contemporary in a heartbeat, while ‘Thursday’s Thoughts’, recorded on a Thursday of course, that has been developed form the piece titled ‘Tuesday’s Thoughts’ on 7 Songs in 7 Days moving the composition from Ross’s fiendishly complicated piano introduction to a rock infused piece for piano and rhythm section and a tantalisingly brief solo from guitarist Bettini before a return to the solo piano composition that began the tune.

The sheer infectious exuberance of the rhythmic drive of ‘When You Walked In The Room’ is a feel treat and again draws the listener to the sound of the brass arrangement, and a wonderfully concise and expressive solo from trumpeter Dave Boa.

Boa’s place in Ross’s music cannot be overestimated as he has been a regular collaborator and co-conspirator for many years, and the vocalist dedicates ‘The Trumpet Man’ to her friend and fellow musician. Depicting a time in the trumpeter’s life when juggling the life of a professional musician with spending time with and providing for his family made him doubt his vocation.

Boa plays beautifully on this song and Ross sings with great feeling, able to express the insecurity, uncertainty and vulnerability that Boa must have felt.

The album is littered with such stories, feelings and emotions that we can all connect with, and it is this empathy for others, and her ability to communicate these feelings while lifting the spirits of all around her that make Fiona Ross’s music such a joy.

She may defy those who would seek to pigeonhole her music, and she comfortably straddles genres while refusing to conform,  and if this act of defiance may annoy the diehards and purists, for those who are willing to let Ross’s music convey its message, she will introduce the listener to the playground of life with the all the ups and downs that we encounter on the journey.

Living life in the fast lane, Fiona Ross has captured in her exquisite songs the frenetic pace of life that most of us live, along with our deepest thoughts and perpetual to do lists, and in doing so has offered us a welcome respite and comfort in knowing that we are not alone.

Reviewed by Nick Lea