If Sade can enjoy a postmillennial comeback, why not Julia Fordham? Both of them, after all, arrived in the mid- to late '80s and injected a much-needed sense of beauty and quiet intensity into the musical landscape. Fordham was never as much of a commercial smash as Ms. Adu, perhaps, but that makes her persistence all the more remarkable. Five years after her previous studio effort, she's back with one of the quiet gems of the year, Concrete Love. On it, she's joined by the likes of India.Arie, Joe Henry, Billy Preston, bassist Larry Klein (who also produced the album) and ex-Was (Not Was) vocalists Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens.
Fordham's rangy voice and exacting phrasing are still her main draws, but on Concrete Love, her writing is equally fine, from desirous (and somewhat randy) tunes such as "Love" and "Wake Up With You" to the resolute "Missing Man" and a heartbreaking tribute to the late Minnie Riperton, "Roadside Angel." Those who know Fordham thanks to earlier songs such as "Porcelain," "Happy Ever After" and "Manhattan Skyline" are aware that her appearance at the Duck Room is an all-too-rare treat. Others who have yet to discover her -- but are fans of Joni Mitchell, Phoebe Snow and Norah Jones -- would be well advised to check her out.