Melody Gardot’s wanderlust has perennially informed her distinctive sound with infusions of exotic global rhythms. 2009’s uber-successful My One And Only Thrill saw her teaming up with renowned producer Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock, Madeleine Peyroux) and continued the gradual assimilations of tropical elements into her music. This was expanded further on 2012’s orchestral The Absence, which diarised Gardot’s relentless travels and experiences.
Fourth album Currency of Man announces a radical departure for an artiste who restlessly stretches definitions of her art. Gardot escorts us on a new musical voyage, foregoing digital methods in favour of analogue equipment and venturing into the past/passed for musical inspiration yet remaining in the present for lyrical verite’. These truths reside in incisive observations of precarious times in an ever-distressed world, what Gardot terms ‘reflective-collective’.
Radio static and crackly field recordings create a documentarian feel that encapsulates the social dimension of songs centred on characters observed on the streets of Los Angeles, ‘people who were experiencing life on the fringe.’ Forensic ruminations articulate how social and economic inequality (food banks, homelessness, famine) and conflict fuelled by racial and religious prejudice are exploited to create a culture of division and fear. From tropical climes to topical chimes.
Opener ‘It’s gonna come’ sets the tone with strong lyrical themes about seeing ‘that man’ and those ‘politicians’ to a backbeat of filmic strings and jazzy horns implying that most ‘don’t see’ at all. The fade-out intones ‘these are battles we’re going to have continuously’. ‘Preacher Man’ relives the story of Emmett Till, a black teenager in a febrile 1950s America whose racially motivated murder signified a landmark moment in the struggle for Civil Rights. Backed by a social media assembled choir this a country-funk lament to a horrific and depressingly still relevant tale.
‘Don’t misunderstand’ begins with the voice of ‘America’ seeping from a radio, a breathy slow-paced tune full of mystery. ‘If I ever recall your face’ evokes Dory Previn, wistful vox and sweeping sounds. The Ameri-Franco sheen is in full evidence here, augmented by the cinematic orchestrations and Gallic joie de vivre of arranger Clément Ducol. ‘Bad News’ is a Bluesy-chanteusy-boozy warning of portentous omens backed by inebriated trumpets and sax before the death knell message of “It’s closing time.” The seasoned drinker’s greatest fear.
‘Once I was loved’ closes the album in a nostalgic manner, Gardot’s heartfelt delivery struggling to remember the times of yore and looking ahead to the final days. A melancholic yet optimistic finale to a multi-layered collection.
Gardot possesses a utopian outlook (and why not?) in dystopian times, believing in peace and love without ever being gloopy or the pejorative ‘idealistic’; hope and positivity ooze throughout. Holding a mirror up to the world she is effectively crying ‘Armageddon tired of all this misery’. She has a point.