It’s certainly been a red letter year for Jane McDonald. 

The former Loose Women and The Cruise star kickstarted 2017 with the first of what would become two series of the hugely successful - and equally entertaining - Cruising With Jane McDonald (seriously, check it out on catch up or demand, it’s superb, funny and gloriously down-to-Earth). There’s been the return of her equally popular ‘Making Memories’ tour taking in venues up and down the UK, whilst also busying away with preparations for next year’s celebrations of 20 years in the industry, including, naturally, another Nationwide tour.

It’s almost remarkable, then, that amidst all of the cruising, touring, planning and performing, McDonald also found time to finish and release latest album Hold the Covers Back.

Doubly so given that it's an album consisting entirely of her own material, with not a cover to be found anywhere on the track listing (revisit the title…. punny, yes?).

In truth, McDonald’s talents as a songwriter have regularly been evinced by the many fans and visitors to her tours and live performances over the years. Whilst she may be more eminently well-known for the wit, warmth and humour of her TV work, as Hold The Covers Back beautifully demonstrates, it is in her singer-songwriting efforts that you’ll really find her heart.

Whilst she can belt out a Bassey or even croon us some Cilla up there with the best, by indeed holding those covers back this time round, there’s an immediacy and uniqueness, not to mention a reflection of the artist, to pretty much all of Hold the Covers Back that makes it the most personal and direct offering by McDonald yet.

This truly feels like ‘Jane McDonald: the album’, no lean praise given she has been producing successful album releases for just shy of two decades now, and it’s a beautiful journey that is at times somehow both powerful and intimatw at once.

Those going in will likely know what to expect; the core of Hold consists of those big power ballads and stirring romantic pieces that McDonald has become synonymous with. And yet, again, as they are almost all solely sprung from Jane herself (aside from 2 credited co-writes with guitarist Steve Cooper) there’s a real consistency of message and quality across the album that makes it feel like a whole piece, as opposed to former collections of classics peppered with the odd original number.

It’s also the finest demonstration yet of just how capable a writer she actually is. Some of the numbers, such as ‘The Singer Of Your Song’ (which by this point has almost become the singer’s trademark theme) have appeared on previous albums, whereas those familiar with McDonald’s touring shows will be thrilled at finally getting to own a recording of the likes of ‘Winner’ and ‘I’ll Be There’, as they are fantastic mainstays of her recent live performances.

It’s almost disarming how confident and well written/produced so many of the offerings on Hold the Covers Back are for original pieces of work. The upbeat ’One Step At A Time’ could have been plucked straight from the annals of Disco or Motown, the Country edges of ‘Let The Light In’ offer shades of Randy Newman or even modern Parton, whilst ‘Step Outside Your Door’ plays like a fusion of 60s lightness and bounce in the verse met with a more contemporary, Take That/Barlow-esque bridge and chorus.

However, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is on the big ballads that Hold really soars. As mentioned, they are McDonald’s forte, and her original offerings here are where perhaps she impresses most. McDonald also knows her market; these are full-bodied, moving power ballads that the 80s and 90s would be envious of, and that her fans, and indeed any fans of such hearty anthems, will adore.

Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley steps in with McDonald on the soulful ‘I See It In Your Eyes’, a moving duet on the fear and regret of losing love. Hadley is in fine voice, and lends the number an even greater nostalgic sheen, whilst the similarly full-bodied and powerful ‘The Hand That Leads Me’ and ‘Winner’ are already fan favourites with their big rises, even bigger belts and empowering and romantic hues.

And expect serious tears if you let yourself assign the emotive ‘When I Look At You’ to a loved one or friend.

The titular ‘Hold the Covers Back’ is slightly more restrained, but also feels more personal as a result. Like so many of the numbers on the album, it is a romantic ode and love letter in one, with an optimism and warmth that reflects McDonald well as both a performer and person.

Perhaps the strongest of the ballads, though, is the achingly beautiful ‘I’ll Be There’. Thankfully bearing no resemblance to the Jackson 5 classic of the same name, it’s another favourite from the tours, and a truly moving,  resonant and measured anthem of love and commitment that deserves to become something of a classic in its own right. A lovely acoustic version was included as a bonus track on the deluxe edition of previous album Singer of Your Song, but this feels like the full-bodied realisation of the track.

In many ways, Hold the Covers Back is McDonald’s most important release yet, and it’s fitting that on the eve of such an important anniversary for the entertainer she releases such a personal and reflective body of work. These are fantastic, moving and powerful pieces, and in freeing herself from the covers, she has created an album that is the most confident and assured expression of her own talents and instincts as both a songwriter and a singer yet. 

Yes, there’s the odd liberal splashing of camp and cheese here and there, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s the perfect distillation of almost 20 years of performance and penmanship from a hugely popular - and equally talented - entertainer, and a beautiful, soulful journey in its own right, littered with some absolute gems that moms, nans, gay uncles and anyone with an ear for big, powerful 80s/90s ballads and belts will absolutely eat up.

Keeping holding back those covers Jane, we love what we see.

(and hear, before you let your minds wander into the gutter)

'HOLD THE COVERS BACK' is out now and available to purchase on CD on Amazon, with a special signed CD copy available exclusively from Jane's MusicGlue Online Store.

A Digital Download is available to purchase now from iTunes and Google Play.

For a full list of ways to buy and/or download the album, click here.