Michele Stodart – Invitation : Album Review

A gaunt invitation to hope, a bleak study in survival, this downbeat album is strangely uplifting.

Release Date: 15th September 2023

Label: Keepsake Recordings

Format: CD / vinyl / digital

Ouch. If your cup of puppy’s tears is the bleak anguish of a soul in distress, this might be right up your garret. And yet it is darkly wonderful, the beauty of the abyss, however, sometimes, uncomfortable to witness. It’s odd, though, squaring this music with the vibrant effervescent thrust she brings to bear on stage, at least in her more familiar role as foil to brother Romeo, in the Magic Numbers, or, increasingly frequently, popping up as a bass for hire with other artists, giving their songs a greater credibility. But those familiar with her earlier solo work, and with not infrequent side-kick, Kathryn Williams, will get this flipside to that heads up persona. If they bared her soul, this release positively strips her back to marrow and matter.

Several years in gestation, that time stretched by the pandemic and the consequentials, Stodart describes the songs as coming from a place “inviting in the darkness.” Yet, far from accepting the outcome as depressing, she goes on to comment how such feelings “are there to guide you.” Moreover, it is “in the learning and listening that we can transform.” Powerful stuff, right enough.

Tell Me starts with the death throes of a relationship, a late night plea that starts, initially from the stance of I Can’t Make You Love Me, or Lie To Me, ahead of then eviscerating the guilty party with a barbed clarity. As I said, ouch. Brother Romeo plays the piano, with a mellotronic choir and strings from producer, Dave Izumi Lynch. The House is then positively buoyant (not really), with a wry melancholy, echoey shards of electric guitar unfolding over piano and picked acoustic, the bare bones of a rhythm section keeping a sombre pace, even as she adds some bassline burbles for additional ennui. Her vocals are a calm commentary that a somewhere between a whisper and a dream. Push And Pull seems to have a country twang somewhere within it, that style of music always faithful to this mood. With the steel guitar of Joe Harvey-Whyte wracking up the necessary, and electronic beats the ground horizon, further mellotron soars overhead. The sole co-write on this album, responsibility for the melody line is shared with Andy Bruce.

These Bones presents a feistier spirit, a rejection of making do, an ultimatum, possibly a parting shot: “I ain’t hanging round to die”. With a smoky jazz club ambience, and a 1.2.3,4 start, Nick Pini provides the double bass and C.J. Jones the percussion, Stodart strumming a guitar alongside Andy Bruce’s piano. A surprise feature is the distant background clanging of tubular bells, perhaps a clock calling time. Undone enters with an almost Renaissance feel, voice and picked guitar, that sounds like a lute. Or is it a harp? Rather than madrigal, her voice is frailer, bruised, even, before some beats garnish in a change of mood and tempo, her voice now near a wail. Swooshing effects and piano add to the intensity, steel guitar a given in such surroundings. I recommend you play this one twice, at least, before allowing yourself to move forward.

Come Dance With Me has a similarly naked start, just some acoustic guitar, a song for when the going gets tough, for looking ahead with confidence, piano and pizzicato strings, a I Hope You Dance, as applied to self, a self-soothing lullaby through the storm. And it is harp in there, Alice Phelps. together with some majestic violin lines from Will Harvey. Remember that hymn around fighting the good fight? Well, that’s the fight alluded to in the song, Good Fight, which starts with the evocative lines, “You took back the key and you closed the door”. For all that it is, or feels, a song of hope, or feels so, the return of records part of how life moves on. With a wider soundscape, it is a wistful swaying lament to the loss of love, to the gain of personal experience. It all feels very lights up and credits. I won’t reveal the closing stanza but listen for it hard, it explaining the title.

But, lest you feel she has arrived at the end of the album, totally on her uppers and intact, the closer, Drowning, is not a song about waving. But it isn’t, also, a song about death, more a song around being allowed to sink, if that makes sense. “Moon, I won’t need your promises to keep me safe at night“….”bring back the darkness to hide me, when I’m drowning.” I sort of get that, an embrace your grief, if for the moment, however long that needs to be. Which is better, always, than yielding. A brave song, open and honest, as is this whole collection. It may not cheer you up, but will help get you through any long night of the soul, hers or yours.

Here’s that opening track, Tell Me:

Michele Stodart online: website / facebook / twitter / Instagram

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