Eliza Shaddad’s new album The Woman You Want brings an instantly familiar warmth to it. If you’ve ever been in a cabriolet with the top down on a hot, hot day and someone plays the perfect album to accompany drive along the coast then it could easily be this album (not surprisingly the album was recorded in the closest thing England has to the Riviera: Cornwall). It draws a line from the inflection of Ricki Lee Jones to a distillation of the power of Sheryl Crow, and the album set its guitars at a jaunty angle with plenty of harmonies washing in and out like a warm tide.
Eliza Shaddad says the album is “a record of me figuring myself out. I’d been wrestling with the idea of wanting to be a better human, a better woman, a better wife, better friend, better daughter… and not really feeling capable of it… and the so the title, and title song, came out as a direct challenge really, to me, and to the listener”. Shaddad’s personal history throws serious shade on the majority of us and reads like the treatment for a film. She is the daughter of a Sudanese astrophysicist and a Scottish diplomat, raised over seven countries and is a multi-linguist with a degree in philosophy who also studied jazz at London’s Guildhall. She has collaborated with award-winning poet Anthony Anaxagorou, contemporary jazz group Hansu-Tori, and Clean Bandit, and is also a founding member of Girls Girls Girls a “collective of female artists who celebrate and empower womxn in the music industry and campaign against female genital cutting” which was started with fellow musicians Samantha Lindo and Beth Rowley.
‘Heaven’ and ‘Fine & Peachy’ duck and dive from LA to Newquay, with Shaddad’s voice holding true against big drums and tuneful, guitar-driven sounds that would have put a smile on Tom Petty’s face. The title track, ‘Waiting Game’ and ‘Tired of Trying’ flex more reflective muscles and offer an atmospheric tension, and ‘Waiting Game’ could have featured on a Talk Talk album. This is an album that draws on acoustic and electric guitars, synths, strings, drums machines but also from Shaddad’s Sudanese roots with use of the oud and “even a jubilant ululating traditional Sudanese call”. One of the standout tracks is the album closer, ‘Blossom’, and it’s often in the smaller tracks that you can really get a sense of the artist. Voice, arrangement and intent are perfectly balanced here, with a night-time sense of hush which unfolds like a flower into a heady swirl of strings and voice. Lush.
The positive energy that radiates from this album is a force to be reckoned with and Eliza Shaddad’s outlook is robustly positive and hugely refreshing. It’s also a great summer album to take out and about and, if you can, definitely one to widen your smile on the drive down that coastal road.
Review by Paul F Cook