Rebecca Ferguson at Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Rarely do X Factor contestants shed their mass-produced pop image, evolving from Simon Cowell’s cash cow into music artists in their own right. Rebecca Ferguson, it seems, has done just this. Her debut album Heaven remains lauded by critics and fans alike, reaching double platinum status, while her newly released second record Freedom has gained an equally warm reception, reaching number six in the UK charts.
In addition to her commercial and critical success, Ferguson has also broken the Cowell pop production line mould by writing her own songs, along with the help of songwriting royalty such as Francis “Eg” White, credited for his collaborations with Adele and Duffy. Branching out beyond the bounds of over-produced, auto-tuned one hit wonders akin to the X Factor’s last pop darling Leona Lewis, Ferguson’s tracks are a heady mixture of soul, jazz and rhythm and blues sounds, echoing back to a golden era of music before the likes of Saturday night televised karaoke competitions.
Ferguson is a mercurial entity, entering the stage in a figure-hugging lace dress to the sounds of Billie Holiday, she becomes at once a luminary songstress, her golden voice oozing through Shepherd’s Bush Empire like soft treacle. Suddenly, song over, she transforms into a regular Liverpudlian girl, giggling over her shoes and dance moves. The change is staggering, as is her voice, which trembles in huskily intimate low notes and rises into yearning highs with intermittent growls and screams as she bursts into full soul mode.
Fake Smile shows off Ferguson’s voice to perfection, moving fluidly from soft growls to passionate, thundering sustains. Here her backing singers offer subtle support while a smooth melange of horns, powdery drums and Hammond organ give a swirling sound that feels summoned from a 50s jazz club. My Freedom, Ferguson’s “fight-back song” aches with ripe emotion and melancholic soul, as her vacillating vibrato blasts amid heavy guitar and intricate drums. Shoulder to Shoulder smoulders with breathtaking beauty as Ferguson’s voice is allowed to soar above gentle piano and Nothing’s Real But Love draws a huge reaction from the crowd as the Motown-esque hit swells in passionate waves.
Tonight’s concert proved Ferguson’s ability as a staggering singer and songwriter, leaving the audience in a heady daze of glorious soul, a million miles away from her reality show beginnings.
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Watch the video for Fake Smile here: