(Decca. 4724682. CD review by Andrew Cartmel)
Melody Gardot was an unequivocal knockout at the London Jazz Festival in 2012 when she had just released The Absence (REVIEW) . This is her first album since then, and it’s predictably — or rather, unpredictably — impressive. Just in case anyone isn’t familiar with the details, Gardot’s biography is unique among singer-songwriters and is so extraordinary that Hollywood might hesitate to invent it. Her career was triggered by a devastating accident (she was on her bicycle; some idiot in a car shot the lights). Music therapy was crucial to her recovery and she has been left with life changing injuries and the flowering of a truly remarkable talent. Anything she does is worthy of attention and this powerful new album doesn’t disappoint.
Preacher Man, appropriately enough, has a big menacing blues sound. Plangent guitars roll under Gardot’s husky and immaculately timed vocals, as she unfurls her pensive, uneasy lyric. The bad-ass guitar rumbles and moans under her singing like trouble in the next room at a cheap hotel. The splendid guitarists on the album aren’t identified for individual tracks, but they include Gardot herself, Mitchell Long, Reese Richardson, Jesse Harris and the great Dean Parks.
Following on the heels of this thunderous, ominous piece Morning Sun is quietly lovely. It has the feel of the sky clearing with the passing of a storm, that same relieved aftermath purity. A solo violin plays sad, country-style fiddle and plucked strings fade to silence. (No soloists are credited, but the strings are arranged and conducted by Clément Ducol.)
It Gonna Come, with words and music by Gardot, is an unsettling meditation buoyed up by strings and concise horns with gospel handclaps affirming its dark, warning message — all delivered with the utmost casualness and expertise. The worrisome strings on the outro are particularly effective. Relentlessly assertive drumming punches through the opening of Same To You. (The drummers on the album are Chuck Staab and Vinnie Colaiuta, the latter a veteran of Frank Zappa’s wild years, not to mention his work with Chick Corea.) This tune is distinguished by dizzily concise saxophone — the altoist on the album is Irwin Hall, tenor and baritone are played by Dan Higgins — and faint, distorted vocals haunt the edge of our hearing.
On the pulsing, irresistible, Don’t Misunderstand the soulful, doleful violin is back, abetted by a rich bed of strings and soundscape tapes which give way to some sporadic but potent Hammond organ (by Pete Kuzma or Larry Goldings). In contrast to the unsettling intimacy of this, If I Ever Recall Your Face has an orchestral scale and scope, with sweeping swoops of strings acting as a backdrop to the adroit piano (by Melody Gardot herself, although there is also prepared piano on the album by Clément Ducol). The song’s ending suggests only an interim resolution, with a troubling tape loop continuing to play in the listener’s head.
Bad News might well be subtitled ‘Un hommage à Tom Waits’ — indeed, it even mentions ‘closing time’ — with its jangling percussion and woozy, inebriated New Orleans horns and the scribbling screech of a coarse, raucous but rapturous sax. The refrain here is “The bad news has arrived,” but the message conveyed throughout this CD is quite the opposite. The arrival of a new Melody Gardot album is nothing but the best of good news. There is an extended, deluxe version of Currency of Man available, featuring additional tracks including the tantalisingly titled March For Mingus. Whichever version you favour, you should explore this release. If you are interested in the cutting edge — or indeed the outer limits, or twilight zone — of jazz singing, then Melody Gardot is the woman for you. And me.