September 26, 1988 12:00 PM

Julia Fordham

Fordham, 26, is an Englishwoman with an intense, austere singing style and a knack for writing intelligent, uncommonly lingering pop tunes. The Comfort of Strangers, for instance, recalls the desperation of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire protagonist Blanche DuBois; Few Too Many is an enterprising attempt to address the problem of alcoholism; The Other Woman considers the difficulties of the most distant point of a romantic triangle. On this quietly impressive debut album, Fordham’s voice and inflections are wide-ranging: At various moments she sounds like everyone from Joni Mitchell to Cleo Laine, by way of Annie Lennox. There’s an occasional splash of brass, and Fordham gets duet help from John O’Kane of the group Millions Like Us on Where Does the Time Go. But for the most part she is on her own, backed mainly by Grant Mitchell’s keyboards. She always communicates a subtle sense of time and a respect for her audience’s intelligence, even when she’s singing about basic bread-and-butter romantic woes. This one is for the crossbreed categories, somewhere between mainstream-pop and jazz. Whatever you call it, it is an album that demands and rewards serious listening. (Virgin)

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