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Josie Field
Hometown: Johannesburg, South Africa
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Its hard not to reach for the superlatives when describing the debut album from South African singer-songwriter, Josie Field.

Spellbinding would be one word to deploy when talking about the set of 15-songs on this remarkably accomplished debut. Heartfelt would be another. The fact is that Mercury sits pretty well alone in the landscape of South African music; a pop album that depends not on songs sourced from the outside but one that has as its central and most absorbing force a raft of compositions from Josie's own hand.

The arresting combination of a singer, performing her own songs is evident throughout Mercury. For starters listen to the truly lovely Go Because, which pivots off a melody that should ensure the song finds easy access into radio and yet never takes the pedal off a musical vision thats astonishingly pure. In a song about relationship infidelity (Go because youre gone/lie because youve lied before), Josie's innate feel for the craft of songwriting is evocatively displayed and its clear why, early on, she earned a publishing deal with Gallo Publishing.

And its the same with all the songs on her debut: The disarmingly frank White Girl is all swaying beauty; I Laughed And Cocked My Head matches a sparse music production with lyrics that hit right in the solar plexus (do I strike you as the type to stare/go find someone who actually cares?, Josie sings with just the right amount of spikiness) and My Heart & My Hands evokes a simple joy with every listen.

Its no wonder that 22-year-old Johannesburg-born-and-raised Josie is so at ease with the songwriting process shes been writing as long as shes been playing guitar, and that was from the age of 15.
I just grew up with my parents music, from Joni Mitchell to Van Morrison, and Bob Dylan. That was the basis of my love for music, just going through my parents LPs. I had an uncle who went overseas and left his guitar at my house. I knew the three chords from House of the Rising Sun so I started with that and just taught myself. And I pretty much started writing songs at the same time.

Her early material found its feet in folk, and the genre is still a subtle thread that winds its way through the songs on Mercury. The fact that she attended Johannesburgs Michael Mount Waldorf School added to her belief in the possibility of creating something unique, something affecting and special using nothing more than her imagination and her guitar. You come out of a Waldorf school a lot freer I think and more in touch with who you are, although I think that if Id gone to any other school I would still be making music.

After matriculating in 2002, Josie went to an advertising school. I thought it would be a creative kind of place but I realised that the music side was wanting to speak out so I left after a year. I told my folks that it was not what I wanted to do and that I didnt want them wasting money on it. I felt that if I did complete the three years and then get a job, I would get used to the lifestyle and money and then find it very hard to change over to a music career, because its not an easy one.

Thats an understatement. For Josie, she has single-mindedly been focused on making music her life for the past two-plus years, living simply, with the support of her parents in order to do this properly. I have spent the last two years looking for the right producer and trying to get my album recorded. It hasnt been easy. I am pretty shy but had to start asking around for gigs and one of my first was at the Blues Room in Johannesburg. I went to watch a friend play and very hesitantly asked how one could get a gig there and I soon found myself playing for a crowd. It was there that several people in the industry noticed Josie and the word about her talent spread. Says Josie: Gigging helped because it put me on the radar. I am very grateful for having met Adrian because I dont know how long my parents would have just let me go on, writing songs and playing without an album in sight.

Adrian is Adrian King, who worked as Marketing and Label Manager at Sony South Africa for years before its merger with BMG and then left to form his own production company. Adrian heard Josie's early demos and was instantly attracted to her ability to write songs that speak of love and loss in an intimate way that was still pop enough to attract the necessary media support to give Josie a broader platform. The next step was finding a producer and Kevin Leicher of Plum proved a superb match. Recording at Leicher's Darkstar Studio in Newtown, the producer has added textures and layers to Josies songs, fleshing out their pop sensibility at times, adding in electronic touches at other times (on the rootsy Where To Begin for one), putting a piano here (Cruise Control) and a starring acoustic guitar there (Little Things). Says Josie of Kevins work, A lot of the time producers have a strong idea of what they want and it often doesnt gel with your vision. I just wanted someone to back me up in what I saw for the songs and Kevin has done that.

The combination of Josie and her producer makes for one of the strongest pop albums to have claimed space on the South African music scene for a while and when set against the hastily throw together recordings of medleys that many call pop in South Africa, it simply sparkles.

But dont mistake Josie for only being able to move in a single genre. Her versatility was amply demonstrated by her 2004 collaboration with punk/rock band Tweak and hip-hop artist Pro-Verb. The song they wrote and recorded together Can You Feel It Building - appears on The Coca Cola Collaboration album and spent a few weeks at number one on UCT radio in Cape Town, as well as receiving airplay on 5fm, Tuks fm and East Coast Radio.

Now that Mercury is recorded, Josie, Kevin and Adrian have spent some time putting together a full band. Before it was always just me and a guitar and now we are working on putting together a full band. Its really nice to see your songs come alive and be able to do live shows in a way thats truer to the album, Josie says. She performs regularly as a solo artist, and is a compelling figure on stage, her slender form belying the emotional strength of her lyric writing and her off-kilter vocal delivery that support her fantastic songs.

Josie's sound has been compared to the likes of Alanis Morissette but if comparisons are helpful, shes more Beth Orton than anything else. Still, see her in performance, listen to her unusual yet striking voice and lyrical phrasing and mostly, sink into her terrific songs and you will know that Josie's is nothing short of a singular talent.

Josie Field
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