Charlene Soraia Santaniello Jones stood out from the pantheon of budding female singer-songwriters that emerged in the late 00s. With her DIY attitude, intimate guitar technique and highly personal lyrics of real life neurosis, she mined a very different seam to her peers. Raised near Crystal Palace in South London, Soraia acquired a taste for music at a young age after the toddler picked up her dad's guitar and promptly broke its strings. She was given her own guitar aged five and slowly taught herself to play along to her dad's record collection, chiefly via David Bowie's Space Oddity and Diamond Dogs and the progressive rock of Pink Floyd and King Crimson. To this day David Gilmour and Robert Fripp remain her favourite guitarists.
In 2004 she was accepted into the BRIT school alongside future stars Adele and Kate Nash. While she studied performance, she also developed a fondness for the technical side of recording, the self-dubbed 'geek with technique' even customising a 1973 Japanese Gibson 335 guitar to suit her stage needs. As her writing matured she realised she had synaesthesia, a neurological condition in which the brain causes two or more senses to combine. In her case sounds are experienced as colours, a condition that has also affected fellow musicians including Tori Amos, Pharrell Williams and Mary J. Blige. From 2006 to 2009 Soraia began to establish herself as non-stereotypical performer, whether playing at open mic nights at The Studio in Bromley or with the rock band Retrospect, who she released the EP Long Hair, Short Memories with. Later on she also played guitar in psychedelic blues outfit Electriq Mistress. Soraia's own songs came bubbling to the surface over a series of self-financed and stripped-down EPs including Lemonade (2006), Postcards From iO and Daffodils & Other Idylls (both 2008), plus One Of The Sun (2009). Issued in now collectible batches of 1,000 copies, each one printed and assembled by the part Italian, part Indian singer in her bedroom, they demonstrated her ability to tell captivating stories within the narrow confines of the pop song.
Soraia started to gravitate to the next level in 2010 when she was signed to independent label Peacefrog, also home to Nouvelle Vague and José González. In 2011 her cover of The Calling's soft rock anthem 'Wherever You Will Go' was licensed for use in a Twining's tea TV commercial. Released as a single in late September, the song entered the UK charts at number 20 and eventually soared to number three. It was tacked onto the end of her mostly melancholic debut Moonchild, a set rendered with the help of producer Paul Stacey that plundered and reworked several tracks from her early EPs. Anyone expecting several facsimiles of her hit single were shaken out of that notion by the high-pitched wail that kick-started its evocative six-minute opener 'When We Were Five', awash with trippy guitars and shimmering melodies. Yet at its core were the formative songs she penned in her bedroom on her beloved guitar. From the adept acoustic fingerpicking of 'Daffodils' and 'Wishing (You) Well' to the naked confessional of 'Rowing', Soraia proved she was capable of scoring direct hits against an unreliable suitor, raging: 'But if I could/I would tell my soul to cease this pain/And if I could/I would set fire to your field/To forget your face'. Elsewhere the infectious 'Bipolar' reflected the paradoxical feelings of joy and despondency that haunt its sufferers. It was no away day in someone else's misery either, as Soraia wrote it after being diagnosed with a less severe form of the disease, Cyclothymia. It brought even more resonance to the lyrics: 'I think I'll have a baby/With a man who beats me/Who abuses and confuses me/And also threatens to kill me'. A potent and intimate statement from a young artist unafraid to shine a harsh light on her own neuroses, the album garnered critical acclaim and ranked high on many critics' end-of-year lists.
While Soraia's debut was so introspective that its author mumbled her way through some of its most personal lyrics, 2014's follow-up Love Is The Law found her working with a stellar array of co-writers to create a collection of bittersweet but beautifully nuanced love songs. Some of its most touching moments were penned alongside Soraia's former boyfriend, shaggy-haired Winchester singer-songwriter Jon Allen. These included the album's first lead single, the indelible heartbreak ballad of 'Ghost' that married her acoustic picking skills with teaming strings. More startling still was the wider range of her voice as she lashed out: 'You don't feel my pain/You don't see my sorrow/And the thing that hurts the most is I'm just a ghost'. Another effort written with Allen, 'The Space Between Us', traced how distant the pair had become before their break-up, while 'Standing Stone' managed to strike a more optimistic note. Among the album's other collaborators were The Verve's producer Chris Potter and songwriter Justin Parker, best known as the co-writer of Lana Del Rey's 'Video Games', who assisted on the set's stark but effective title track, Soraia's first piano ballad. Elsewhere she penned typically individual efforts such as 'Halo' with craftsman to the stars EG White and 'The Beast' with Robbie Williams' old co-writer Guy Chambers.
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