Friday, February 27, 2009

Jenny Morris Gives Body And Soul To Her Music - The Latter Years

With almost a decade as a professional musician under her belt, by 1986 Jenny Morris was ready to take the step up to bona fide pop-rock diva. At the conclusion of INXS’ ‘Listen Like Thieves’ world tour, Jenny Morris recorded the track ‘You’re Gonna Get Hurt’, written and produced by INXS songwriter and keyboardist Andrew Farriss, whilst on the U.S. leg of the INXS tour. It was recorded with backing by INXS members Andrew and Jon Farriss and Garry Gary Beers, along with ex-Cold Chisel guitarist Ian Moss (not a bad support cast). The single was released in September ‘86 and immediately started being added to radio playlists across Australia. By October, Jenny Morris had cracked the top forty for the first time, with ‘You’re Gonna Get Hurt’ eventually peaking at #24. Farriss had already resumed INXS duties (after playing a starring role in the song’s promo video with Kirk Pengilly), so producers Mark Moffatt and Ricky Fataar once again took over at the helm for work on Morris’ debut album.

The follow up single ‘Body And Soul’(composed by Morris) was yet another first rate pop-rock offering, but for some reason stalled just outside the top 50 (#55) in mid ‘87. Shortly after the album of the same name hit stores, and almost immediately hit the charts. ‘Body And Soul’ not only benefited from a seasoned and confident singer in Morris, but her talents were augmented by an impressive roster of guest players, including Tim Finn (ex-Split Enz), Mark Williams (‘Show No Mercy’), and Phil Small (ex-Cold Chisel). The album went on to achieve platinum accreditation, shifting more than 70,000 units in the process, and peaking at #13 nationally (NZ#21). The album spawned two further hits in ‘Lighthearted’ (OZ#70/NZ#46), preceded by the beautiful Neil Finn penned torch song ‘You I Know’, Jenny Morris’ first foray into the Australian top fifteen (#13/NZ#30). Morris also hit the road with her backing band, which over the course of the next couple of years boasted an exceptional rota of talent, including Amanda Vincent (ex-Eurogliders), Jehan Lindsay (ex-Richard Clapton Band), Paul Burton (ex-Mark Williams Band), and Roger Mason (ex-Models). Jenny Morris’ rise to the upper echelon of Australasian music, was confirmed via two Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Awards, for Most Popular Female Performer of 1987 and 1988.

Morris’ sophomore album took time to surface, but was without question worth the wait. In the interim she had married photographer Paul Clarke (who had appeared as the drummer in the promo video for ‘Body And Soul’), and started a family. Some of the changes in Jenny Morris’ personal life were reflected in her song writing (the gorgeous ’Little By Little’ a stand out example), whilst her confidence and maturity as a performer shone through in her performance. The lead out single ‘Saved Me’ hit the Australian charts in July of ‘89 (OZ#23/NZ#37), and featured a distinctly Latin-Spanish feel permeated by funk undertones, with the promo video shot in Nicaragua of all places. As ‘Saved Me’ was nearing its peak on the singles chart, its source album ‘Shiver’ (brought to you by the letter ‘S’) received a warm reception upon its release. This time Andrew Farriss was on hand to produce the entire album, which witnessed Morris’ song writing contribution extended to ten of the album’s eleven tracks. The second single lifted from ‘Shiver’ was ‘She Has To Be Loved’, a song which melded funk rhythms with an infectious pop hook. In addition, it featured a strong feminist theme, and quickly became a favourite among Morris’ female fans. ‘She Has To Be Loved’ became Jenny Morris’ first Australasian top ten hit (OZ#5/NZ#3) during October of ‘89. The album ‘Shiver’ continued a steady burn up the Australian national chart over the summer of 89/90, reaching a peak possie of #5, and establishing Jenny Morris as one of the hottest selling artists in Australia. The track ‘Aotearoa’ (a colloquial term for ‘Land Of The Long White Cloud’) received a special single release in New Zealand (#35), illustrating Morris’ affection for her homeland hadn’t diminished - Aotearoa also crops up in the lyrics for Split Enz’s 1982 chart topper ‘Six Months In A Leaky Boat’. The album ‘Shiver’ eventually shipped over 250,000 copies, achieving double platinum status in Australia. It spawned two more hit singles; ‘(Beggar On The) Street Of Love’ (OZ#58/NZ#51), written by legendary Australian songsmith Paul Kelly; and the reggae inspired ‘Self Deceiver’ (OZ#81), penned by Morris and Kelly.

With two platinum albums on the trot, Jenny Morris was in high demand as a touring act throughout 1990, and in addition to headlining tours around Australasia, she supported both Prince and Tears For Fears on overseas tours (for which Dweezil Zappa was her touring guitarist). On the recording front, Morris’ only release for 1990 arrived late in the year with the single ‘Piece Of My Heart’, a cover of the old Janis Joplin hit, which returned Morris to the top 30 early in 1991 (OZ#24). Over the next few months she returned to the studio to record her third album, this time with producers Nick Launay (credits with Midnight Oil, Killing Joke-see future post) and Mark Forrester at the helm. The lead out single ‘Break The Weather’, co-written by Jenny Morris and her brother Tam, stormed onto the Australasian charts in September ‘91, and established a high of #3 in Australia and #5 in New Zealand. The finely crafted album ‘Honey Child’ created sufficient buzz to notch up a second consecutive top ten album for Morris (OZ#6) late in ‘91. Although not released as a single, the stand out track for me was a cover of the old Squeeze hit ‘Tempted’. Once more an impressive roster of guest players was assembled, including Wendy Matthews and Midnight Oil’s Jim Moginie. ‘Honey Child’ spawned three more minor hits; ‘I’ve Had You’ (OZ#46/NZ#39), another Morris/Kelly collaboration; the funk laden ‘Zero’ (OZ#92/NZ#33), boasting the legendary rhythm section of drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare (see earlier posts on Dave & Ansell Collins and Maxi Priest); and ‘Crackerjack Man’ (OZ#98), an emotion charged lamentation of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ of the world.

With three hit albums and a dozen hit singles in the can, it was high time for the obligatory ‘Best Of’ album. ‘The Story So Far’ was released in late ‘92, and boasted the usual suspect hits, in addition to Morris’ duet with Michael Hutchence on ‘Jackson’, and a re-recorded version of the old Crocodiles’ hit ‘Tears’ (OZ#99/NZ#18). The album sold steadily and peaked at #12 on the Australian charts during April ‘93, just after Jenny Morris had supported Paul McCartney on his ‘New World’ tour.

Over the next couple of years Jenny Morris balanced family duties with accumulating material for her next album project. Her next single ‘Price I Pay’, was a cover of the Billy Bragg song, and marked Morris’ last foray into the Australian charts when it peaked at #78 in 1994. Morris’ next four singles ‘Only We Can Hear’, ‘Rhythm And Flow’, ‘In Too Deep’, and ‘What Do I Do Now’, were spaced over a period of eighteen months, from mid ‘94 to early ‘96. All were culled from her fifth album ‘Salvation Jane’, which finally surfaced in August 1995. Released on the rooArt label, the album once again partnered Morris with the production talents of Andrew Farriss and Mark Moffatt, and the Electric Hippies (AKA Noiseworks’ alumnus Justin Stanley and Steve Balbi) also lent their flare to the project.

Following an extended period away from the music industry, during which Morris combined family duties with her growing commitment to environmental causes, she re-emerged in 2002 with the Nick Wales produced album ‘Hit & Myth’. The album reflected an artist finely attuned to her craft, but neither album, or singles ‘Home’ and ‘Downtime’, managed to return Jenny Morris to the chart environment. It mattered little though, as with twenty years of hits behind her, Morris didn’t need any further commercial affirmation of her talents. The 2005 live set ‘Alive’ (recorded at The Basement venue in Sydney) captured the best of Jenny Morris the performer, whilst 2006’s ‘Clear Blue In Stormy Skies’ featured a remodelling of several of her previous hits, including ‘Break In The Weather’ and QED’s ‘Everywhere I Go’ (and boasted contributions from Neil Finn). There’s no reason to think we’ve heard the last from Jenny Morris, but if for some reason she doesn’t add further to her discography, she is assured an enduring legacy as one of Australasia’s finest singer/songwriters to have emerged over the last 25 years.

No comments: