What does it sound like?:
Melody’s voice has a smoky, feline quality that kisses the sweet spot at the base of my spine. It makes me purr and tremble both at the same time. She could sing pure gobbledygook and I’d be in raptures.
She is pigeon-holed as a jazz chanteuse but, here, on her fourth album, Melody is is writing songs with greater ambition and scope. There are three main types of song across ten tracks; swampy blues, string-swept slowies and punchy soul. There is very little jazz. Her voice has ripened into a strong, confident instrument, which she deploys with admirable restraint, allowing the mood of the songs to be expressed without histrionics.
The signature sounds of the album are Pete Kuzma’s gospel organ, mud-splattering guitar from Dean Parks, Dan Higgins’s rumbuctious baritone sax and Melody’s own fragile piano. The strings are sumptuous, constructed by Clément Ducol. He is especially good on If Ever I Recall Your Face and the closing, Once I Was Loved, where he cups a Melody piano fragment like a tiny bird in the palm of his hand and, delicately, raises her up to the heavens. The whole thing is classily masterminded by Larry Klein. Just listen to the texture of the tambourine on the gentle prayer of hope, Morning Sun, the third track, for evidence of the quality of the production.
The are songs that bristle with injustice, exact revenge on an errant lover, rail against politicians, look back fondly on a life well lived, bask in the warm glow of love, empathise with a miserable existence on the streets, regret one drink too many or are buoyant with a quiet joy. It is an album to lose yourself in.
And yet, when I first heard it something didn’t seem right. It turned out I was listening to the ‘artist’s cut’ with five extra tracks placed in a different sequence. The extras were all the string-swept kind, weighing the whole album down. The ten track version is much better balanced but, even then, I felt a note of dissatisfaction. Then, I realised that although Melody’s own sequencing was wrong overall, she had one thing right. The opener should not be the social commentary of It Gonna Come. Starting with that, followed immediately by Preacherman, inspired by the lynching of Emmett Till, gives the listener a false impression. It is far better to open with the atmospheric, nylon-string guitar of Don’t Misunderstand, a song of assertive lust, before the dirty blues of Preacherman. So, I implore you to buy the album but switch places between track one and track five for a deeply satisfying experience.
What does it all *mean*?
Melody Gardot is a growing songwriter and recording artist of exceptional quality. She has built a team around her that supports her perfectly. This album can be revelled in, confident in the knowledge that there is much more to come. She is still only thirty years old.
Goes well with…
A heavy heart, headphones and artificial light. It’ll make you feel better. I imagine that, live, Melody would be quite an experience.
Might suit people who like…
Songs of substance performed with style.