Josienne Clarke – Onliness : Album Review

Revised, refashioned, revitalised, this is the work of a woman revived. Thank you, Josienne.

Release Date: 14th April 2023

Label: Corduroy Punk

Format: CD / Vinyl / Digital

You know what it is like when you make up a word, especially when it sums up the situation you want it to describe. Onliness is such a word, but, when Josienne Clarke invented it, she discovered she had merely found it. A bit like America and Columbus, it was already there. Handily meaning much as she wanted it to, it means the sense of being apart and, specifically and importantly, is not the quite the same as loneliness, although they can co-exist. More a statement than a mood. The album is subtitled Songs of Solitude and Singularity, which is a reflection on her being, now, both without her erstwhile musical partner of many years and, to boot, without a record contract; Corduroy Punk is her own imprint. Read what you will into the fact that the songs, all but one, are old, nuggets from her past recast and recalibrated. One might certainly surmise her onliness may well have predated her solo situation, with there being a need to reclaim the time before. (And, yes, she actually does credit Taylor Swift for sowing that seed for rewriting her past)

Actually her third release since becoming “only”, as last year saw her release both an EP of her own material and, after that, another, longer EP, of covers. This full length recording sees her resolutely on her uppers, fighting back for herself and for others. When I Promised You Light, the first of those, came out, last February, she said: “like a lot of young women in this industry, I started out believing everything that everyone told me. I did what I was told and I took the advice really openly. I assumed these old dudes knew what they were talking about.” This release entrenches and underlines that mood, as she continue to reassert on her own terms.

Rather than blagging off as to where and when these songs first saw light, over her long and varied Ben Walker and…. years, lets just play it straight, as the new versions seldom ape the originals. The Tangled Tree is a a classic construction of melancholia, etched into a distorted guitar and a solid rhythm section backbeat. Archetypal folk-rock, really, her voice a plaintive moan, beseeching, altogether eerie and uncanny. Let’s get her co-conspirators out the way now, as good a time as any: Alec Bowman-Clarke on bass and Dave Hamblett on drums, with keyboards courtesy Matt Robinson. The guitar? That’s herself, which impresses. Whether it shouldn’t or not, as it is good. Hell, she also provides the saxophone, when and where it appears, such as the next song, Only Me Only. With tinkling piano, possibly also her own, this is an intriguing alleyway of a song of no small appeal. Short, it is followed by the fingerpicked whimsy of It Would Not Be A Rose, where her Fort William honed inflection comes to the fore, multi-tracked vocals like a sirens call. This is a seriously good iteration, taking the song to levels originally unrealised levels of gothic doom. I’m in!

Ghost Light continues in this sense, with sepulchral guitar chords clanging out a membrane over which her gossamer vocal floats, the lyric anything but a soft touch. And so it goes, flitting between acoustic whimsy and electric threat. Silverline is largely more acoustic, if with an electric presence in the hinterland, made more real as the drums thud in. Who is in the production room here, the mastery of moods so far immaculate? Ha, need you ask, it again being Clarke, with Nick Turner recording and Mike Hillier mixing and mastering. Bells Ring is more of a traditional throwback, with the harp of Mary Anne Kennedy to the fore. Until Hamblett wellies in, with that difficult balance of restraint and wallop. Something Familiar strips right back, a confessional of some beauty, the bass a slow and steady heartbeat, before The Birds ushers in a sense of calm and acceptance. This one is Clarke on piano, although, can I say, it is the other keyboards that add the greater heft here, a synthesised haze, like a spring day, with summer on the cusp.

Homemade Heartache is everything a song of such intent should be. A sort of country gospel, kicked off first by piano, and then guitar, it is another highlight, showing, as aye, the kinship between country music and where it all began, in the old countries and heartlands. The vocals fit the song ascloseasthis. Chicago, no relation to the Graham Nash song, is nonetheless another classy slice of americana, the lyrics dark and doleful, the build somewhat intense. And more saxophone! Things I Didn’t Need further dials down the feelgood, a 4:4 exercise in despair. Bathed In Light,praise be, offers some slight respite. Slight, with an idea that RT may have a serrious candidate in the doom and gloom stakes. Which is manna to my manner, a good dirge the most cheerful thing I can think of. A lovely repetitive guitar pattern.

Roused from that mood, Anyone But Me, is an up and atcha rocker, taking no prisoners, bar the faithfully calm vocal. Scorned woman, or what? Formidable. Uncertain if I Never Learned French is a riposte to Butch Trucks’ She Never Spoke Spanish To Me, and it probably isn’t, but it could be, and succinctly makes its point, before Done gives a moment of a possibly cruel to be kind self-reflection: “Don’t look at me“, and “Is my sincerity such a surprise?” A gallingly honest song, I daren’t even go search out the earlier version, for fear of finding some glib song of self-deprecation. One of the most powerful songs, amongst many, presented here. Workhorse then lets the valve off the pressure, musically if not in the further words of warning, managing to bridge deep emotion with a melody lighter than its content. Which works, beguilingly, acting then as a trailer for the new song, Words Were Never The Answer. Which, I dare say, is much as we might already have guessed. Possibly the most unadorned song here, with little beyond voice and picked guitar, any added sounds the gift of the microphone, catching all the extraneous sounds of making an instrument play. Brief, it is over as quick it starts: ” All I know, (is) which words to let go.

This is a remarkable album, a remarkable realisation of self-discovery, with every lesson hiding in the plain sight of the past. Seemingly deeply personal, it is brutally honest and unfalteringly engaging. Please keep us posted….

Here’s Anyone But Me:

Josienne Clarke: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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