Archive for the ‘Melody Gardot’ Category

It’s a damp and dreary day in the Triangle, cool but not cold, with the lousy weather stretching up the east coast to our old stomping grounds outside of Philadelphia. The main difference: It’s chillier there.

I’m listening to Melody Gardot’s Sunset in the Blue for the third time today, after playing it over and over again on Friday and Saturday; that it distracted me from Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You speaks volumes. Simply put, it’s a sumptuous set that possesses a narcotic-like effect, providing needed relief from the craziness that’s inhabited the U.S. this past month. (Most presidential election cycles are tense times, but toss in a pandemic and this one has been nuts.) Her smoky alto massages the soul like a kneading cat, just about; and when her vocals lighten a few shades, they’re akin to a rainbow cresting the sky. To say that Sunset in the Blue is already in the running for my much-ballyhooed Album of the Year honors would be stating the obvious, I suppose.

As I mentioned long ago, I discovered Ms. Gardot while investigating Peggy Lee CDs on Amazon; Worrisome Heart appeared at the bottom of one of the pages in the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” section. (I’d seen her name prior, in Philly-area concert listings, as she’s a Philly/South Jersey girl and had been playing local clubs, including the Tin Angel, for a few years. In retrospect, I wish I’d checked her out then.) Thanks to my Amazon order history, I actually know the specific date I ordered the CD: July 15th, 2008.

At its best, as the title track demonstrates, it’s a smoldering, hypnotic set in the mode of Peggy Lee’s Black Coffee; at its worst, it’s still very good.

My One and Only Thrill, released the following April, follows the same basic approach, but expands upon it, incorporating orchestral flourishes. We saw her in concert shortly thereafter and, wow. Just wow. As I wrote in my concert summary, it was like stepping into a film noir. (There used to be a video from that show on YouTube, but it’s disappeared.)

Her 2012 set, The Absence, explores the space between notes, allowing the music to breathe in a way that’s rare in today’s world. My favorite track from that sterling album, however, hails from the deluxe edition: her rendition of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose,” which she recorded for a French TV commercial. To say that it’s “tres bon” is an understatement.

Currency of Man, released in 2015, is an excellent album through and through – one of my favorites of that year, in fact. It’s also a stylistic departure, sporting a taut R&B groove that’s best exemplified by the lead single, “Preacherman.”

Live, the songs still took on a different flavor, punchier than on album and, when appropriate, expanding into propulsive jazz workouts that incorporated elements of The Absence and My One and Only Thrill. She shared the stage with her band, as opposed to fronting it, exploring riffs and leading the audience to rapture again and again. “Morning Sun” was stunning.

Watching that “Morning Sun” clip, however, is somewhat bittersweet. In the pre-pandemic age, one would expect Melody to hit the road to promote Sunset in the Blue, with the songs essentially morphing into new entities on stage. Now? At least in the U.S., I don’t see that happening for at least a year, if not two. (And when it does happen, the issue will be whether she comes to my neck of the woods….)

Melody Gardot’s Sunset in the Blue finds the soft hues of the chanteuse’s heart lilting like a leaf lifted from the ground by a gentle breeze on an autumn afternoon. In many respects, it conjures her 2009 breakthrough, the classic My One and Only Thrill, in sound and style, with deft orchestral touches underscoring her emotive vocals. The main reason for the similarity: she’s again working with that set’s production team – Grammy Award-winning producer Larry Klein, arranger/composer Vince Mendoza and engineer Al Schmitt. Yet Sunset in the Blue is no mere retread; the album incorporates the life and musical lessons she’s learned in the years since.

As evidenced by “If You Love Me,” the leadoff track, the space between notes is on full display throughout; she never rushes a phrase, preferring to hang back and, a la that leaf I mentioned above, ride the wind. Actually, now that I think about it, that metaphor is off: Her vocals are akin to a hawk gliding high in the sky until it spots prey, when it swoops low, talons out. She plucks us from the ground again and again, in other words, though we’re never left bloody. (Maybe that’s not the best metaphor, either.) Anyway, “C’est Magnifique,” which features Portuguese singer António Zambujo, is another example of what I mean.

The languid pace of the album is accented by similar, sumptuous melodies and rhythms; it’s like listening to a lush dreamscape, just about, and one you won’t want to wake from. Nine of the 13 tracks are originals co-written by Melody, though one of those – the duet with Sting, “Little Something” – is only available on the physical release, though it can be streamed from YouTube. (Which means, since my vinyl isn’t slated to be delivered until January, I’m stuck without it for the time being.)

Of the four covers: “Love Song,” written by Lesley Duncan, hails from Elton John’s 1970 Tumbleweed Connection LP, “You Won’t Forget Me,” by Richard Spielman and Kermit Goell, was first performed by Helen Merrill in 1956 (though it’s probably best known, these days, for Carly Simon’s rendition from her underrated 1997 Film Noir album); “Moon River” is, of course, the classic Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer song from Breakfast at Tiffany’s; and “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” by Sammy Cahn and Julie Styne, was first sung by Frank Sinatra in the 1945 musical Anchors Aweigh. Each, as one might expect, is luscious and wondrous in Melody’s hands. 

I’ll sidestep everything else I planned to write, as – honestly – words alone can’t quantify the beauty inherent in Sunset in the Blue. My wife says she hears hints of Billie Holiday within some songs; that may be so, but most of all I hear Melody, her heart and her soul. The music stops time for me in a way few other releases have this year.

The track list:

 

On Friday, jazz chanteuse Melody Gardot released the single “From Paris With Love,” a dreamy and breezy depiction of life in the Pandemic Age. “Maybe one day I will see you/Maybe one day I will see you soon…”

On her website, she says, “In times of great difficulty, art will always break through. Created in isolation, made with love, this project is a reflection of the strength of the human spirit.” For those unfamiliar with the undertaking, the song – which was written by Melody and Pierre Aderne – features a global orchestra of amateur and professional musicians, who contributed their parts after a video request from Melody on her Facebook page in early May. (On her Instagram page, she spotlights many of these talented folks.)

I’ll simply say that “From Paris With Love” is Melody at her best. Her warm vocal arcs towards the clouds like a velvety rainbow made of sound, just about, and the orchestral bed beneath her is simultaneously soft yet firm. It makes me yearn to see her in concert again. 

Jazz chanteuse Melody Gardot paints the aural canvas like few others; and Live in Europe, which collects live performances from 2012 through 2016, is a testament to that fact. In the studio, she blends the primary colors of music – the heart and soul – into a wide array of hues, both light and dark, colorful and monotone. On the stage, however, she expands the palate even further, fusing together jazz, R&B and traditional pop into a hypnotic listen.

The album opens with “Our Love Is Easy,” one of many standout tracks from her 2009 album My One and Only Thrill, as performed in 2012 Paris.

Another of that album’s tracks is presented twice – “Baby I’m a Fool.” The first, from Vienna 2013, is spellbinding in its seductiveness; the second, from London 2016, is equally wondrous and luscious. Why she chose to include both, however, is a bit of a mystery. (She curated the set herself, as she explains in the liner notes.) But I have no complaints – it’s a great song.

In the studio, her songs are often marvels of singer-songwriter precision, with the placement of each note serving a purpose larger than itself. Live, however, she and her band often transform the same songs into intricate jams that extend and explore each note as if they’re songs unto themselves. For example, the studio version of “Who Will Comfort Me,” also from My One and Only Thrill, is a fairly compact, finger-snapping plea of a beaten-down soul. The live rendition here, recorded in Amsterdam 2015, features a Paradise Lost-like swirl of torment courtesy of trumpeter Shareef Clayton.

Likewise, in its studio incarnation, Currency of Man’s soulful “Morning Sun” has all the earmarks of a lost singer-songwriter gem from the early or mid-1970s. In Paris 2015, however – much like Philadelphia 2015 – the song mimics a sunrise in more faithful fashion, slowly cascading from the horizon and into the sky until, at last, light overwhelms darkness. It’s soulful and dramatic, stirring and hypnotic, and no longer conjures one era but all eras, past, present and future. It’s magical and mystical, like Live in Europe as a whole.

It’s well worth checking out, in other words.

The set is available as a double-CD, triple-LP or digital download (and is also available to stream on the usual outlets). The track list: