Smooth and touching; two words that sum up the voice of Joanna Wong, a 19-year-old jazz singer/songwriter whose star is rising after the release of her debut album Start from Here. Some critics and fans have even excitedly announced they've found a Chinese equivalent of Norah Jones and Lisa Ono.
Music fans in Beijing could not ask for a more charming singer than the small, black-haired woman in blue jeans who relies not on a sweet face and hot curves but a captivating voice. On stage, she introduces her music, she taps her foot, plays her guitar and giggles at her own stage patter. Every now and then, she'd whisper: "I love this song!" Nevertheless, her mature voice belies her youth and innocence, and her songwriting skills augur well for the future.
The daughter of veteran Taiwan musician and composer Bing Wong, Joanna was born in Taiwan province but grew up in California, where she studied piano and jazz and idolised British and American legends like the Beatles and Billy Joel.
Gifted with unique jazz vocals, Wong cut her first full-length English album only last year. Featuring 12 tracks, Start From Here included three songs she wrote herself and renditions of classics like Spandau Ballet's True, Billy Joel's New York State of Mind and I Love You, plus David Tao's popular ballad Love is Simple.
The album is reminiscent of Norah Jones in its warm, earthy tones: Wong's vocals is complemented on many tracks by the Wurlitzer organ, electric and acoustic piano, and understated guitars. The production is slick but not heavy-handed and Wong's quiet singing is never overpowered by the lush arrangements.
|Joanna Wang: Young and talented
Most of the songs are unabashedly romantic but Wong's delivery is thoroughly convincing on every track. Vincent DeGiorgio's songwriting lets her take some risks, particularly with Now. And Wong's own songs hold their own: Lost Taipei is pleasantly quirky for its lyrics and whimsical rhythm changes, and Stages of Flying treats the act of saying goodbye in a playful, satisfying way.
Wong sings mostly in English but the album has an EP-length CD with Chinese versions of five songs, which are as strong as their original counterparts. All in all, the album's success proves that talented artists in Taiwan don't necessarily need to follow the Mando-pop formula.
The title song, Start From Here, speaks about love but also how the young artist feels about her introduction into the music industry. "Hopefully it will just give me more room for a future album," she says. "Like you've established some working relationship with your label before and now you are given more freedom to make more ideal music."
The bilingual album, released by Sony BMG in January, has so far sold 200,000 copies throughout Asia.