Helena felt something of an outsider at her Co. Wicklow convent boarding school, a sentiment presumably reinforced when she “minced around like Marilyn Monroe,” or fantasised that she was “literally living inside a musical.” Naturally, Helena could be found secretly listening to a Walkman crammed with the songs of Frank Sinatra and Dinah Washington as she sketched scenes of jazz bands in full swing. When she returned to London - ostensibly to pursue a degree in History of Art - she was already following another dream of becoming a singer. Several kind words (from acclaimed jazz/bebop singer Anita Wardell and respected broadcaster Michael Parkinson) reinforced her self-belief and she was soon performing at venues like Ronnie Scotts and La Pigalle.
By 2007 she had been voted Best Jazz Singer at the Irish World Awards and a year later she was recording The Law Of Attraction. The Law Of Attraction kicks off with the ambiguous and incredibly camp Take it Like A Man, which has several connotations but is really about a man who loved himself (and Helena’s eyelash curlers) more than he loved Helena - “You love that mirror more than I do”. The song seamlessly morphs into the current up-tempo single, Speaking of Happiness, a cover of the Harlem-born R ‘n’ B starlet Gloria Lynne’s 1966 hit that broodingly surfaced in the film Seven. Former Top Of The Pops henchman Chris Cowey has directed the video for this song but it was Lynne’s trippy rendition that would come to haunt Helena’s University years. The next two songs, the self-penned and sleazy The Dice (“you say you’re something of a gambling man/ it’s a game for two, but I roll the dice”) and Back In Business (a Stephen Sondheim composition performed by Madonna in Dick Tracy), showcase a somewhat domineering streak (people have compared Helena to the cartoon character Jessica Rabbit) but it is on Let Me Out that she is at her most mischievous and yet her most vulnerable. Riding in on the back of some relentless piano and a salsa beat, the song is as much about wanting to be herself as it is about Helena’s frustration with the music business – though instead of asking “Which one’s Pink” (as in Pink Floyd’s Have a Cigar) Helena sings “I’m nodding and I’m making the appropriate sounds/As you measure me in profits and pounds.” On Sunny (a song nailed by Ella Fitzgerald but also covered by artists such as Marvin Gaye and Boney M) Helena can be heard through a vocoder, then laughing before finally letting on that she feels “about ten feet tall.” Helena has always loved the Verve catalogue remixes and she must have jumped for joy (though she’s over six feet in heels herself) when she heard what producers Rob Granville and James Winchester had done to this track. The Law Of Attraction continues with a nod and a wink to the lounge-core fans amongst us (on the title track) before closing with Helena’s interpretation of three of her favourite songs including the 1957 Patti Page classic Old Cape Cod which many of you’ll remember due to the sampled lyric “If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air/quaint little villages here and there” used in Groove Armada’s At The River.
Helena’s adaptation is, if anything, sultrier than the original and an acoustic version features as a hidden track at the end of the album. Another standard, Seduced, is probably most associated with the Peggy Lee number but it was Mary Coughlin’s “lazy” version that “seduced” her in her formative years and she’d always hoped to cover it one day. Finally, the album closes with Helena relishing the parade that is Kirsty MacColl’s In These Shoes; the song has become something of a camp classic anyway (it was featured in drag flick Kinky Boots) but Helena’s vocal dexterity takes it to a whole new level. The Law Of Attraction has many meanings for Helena. For example, she believes we can “keep meeting the same personality in a different guise again and again.” For our part we might think we’ve met someone like Helena before (in the guise of Nina Simone or Roisin Murphy perhaps) but we would be mistaken.
On The Law Of Attraction Helena manages to combine Latin and jazz and 50s lounge and 70s grooves to such effect that she appears utterly unique. And that is before you’ve met Helena herself. Helena Jessie released Speaking Of Happiness/In These Shoes on May 18th on Kaffi. Her debut album, The Law Of Attraction, is released in summer 2009. Phill Savidge Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
show me more