23 April 2012

Baby I'm a Fool for Melody Gardot

I've been meaning to blog about Melody Gardot for quite some time. She first came to my attention in 2008, when iTunes offered "Worrisome Heart" as their Single of the Week (22 April 2008). I downloaded every Single of the Week, Discovery Download and even the Latin Single of the Week that year, but in truth I'm not sure I ever really listened to many of them. I don't know why I gave Gardot a few minutes of my time and not the rest, but I'm glad I did.

If there was one adjective to characterize Gardot's music, that word would be "sultry." Every song she's released to date has just dripped with sweltering sexuality. I get a swell in my chest from the mere sound of her voice. The instrumentation backing her invariably conjures some smoky bar with bad lighting and bourbon used like mouthwash, or perhaps an intimate dinner with red wine either outside on a warm summer night or next to a fireplace in Winter. Listening to Gardot sing is not to have sex, though. It's to lie back and let her make slow, sweet love to your ears. She leans in and caresses, teasing and laughing one moment; begging for your touch the next. Hers is a sensuous aesthetic.

She writes her own material, often infusing it with at least a semblance of the autobiographical material that requires a certain kind of candor and courage that I admire. When she sings, for instance, "I would be lucky to find me a man/who could love me the way that I am," my first reaction is to want to reassure her that there's nothing so wrong with her that she doesn't deserve love. But once that instinctive protectiveness has its say, I recognize that this is not merely Gardot fishing for flattery or even expressing self-pity. It's a manifestation of frustration and self-doubt the likes of which many of us are too timid to acknowledge. Gardot put it in a song.

Some Lessons: The Bedroom Sessions EP
3 May 2005

On 11 November, 2003, Gardot was struck in traffic by an SUV while bicycling. It nearly paralyzed her. As part of her recovery treatment, her doctor encouraged her to explore music therapy. That led her to this self-produced EP. The subtitle is reference to the songs being written while she was more or less bedridden during her convalescence. It's out of print and has been for a while. Two songs ("Wicked Ride" and the titular "Some Lessons") were later included on her first LP...

Worrisome Heart
26 February 2008 [Verve Records]

Gardot originally recorded and released this album on her own, but later it was given a wide release by Verve Records. The vulnerability on the opening title track ("I need a hand with my worrisome heart") establishes from the beginning that she's trusting us, the listener, with her intimate thoughts and feelings. Lest we begin to think we know what she needs, she quickly puts us in our place with the teasing "All That I Need Is Love." The rest of the album follows suit. She brings us within an inch of kissing tenderly before backing off and laughing carefree. She wasn't quite 21 years old when she first released this. Astounding, really, because her sensibilities of pacing and sequencing suggest a maturity and wisdom beyond that young age.

iTunes Live from SoHo EP
24 March 2009

This iTunes exclusive set includes two songs from Worrisome Heart sandwiched between four other songs from her next album, My One and Only Thrill. Some listeners may be impressed by how great she sounds live (particularly in the ProTools era). What struck me most was her ad lib banter, in which she makes light conversation with the audience. It's as though she's shrugging as part of an act of being coy, which only makes the pageantry of seduction all the more alluring.

"Baby I'm a Fool"
Gardot's first music video is the perfect microcosm of her musical aesthetics and persona. I just want to live in this video, and to get into that bathtub with her.

My One and Only Thrill
28 April 2009

My One and Only Thrill came three years after she debuted Worrisome Heart on a small indie label. Thematically and aesthetically, she's still very much the same woman as she was at 21...which is to say, the aural lovemaking smolders throughout the album. She co-wrote two songs ("Our Love Is Easy" and "The Rain") with Jesse Harris, and she covers "Over the Rainbow" in a sort of beatnik arrangement in tribute to her youth spent watching The Wizard of Oz repeatedly with her grandmother. Perhaps it was simply her way of acknowledging the foundation of her life that led her to the kind of success she was beginning to enjoy at the time this album was assembled. On some level, I'm sure she likened her post-accident self with frustrated Dorothy Gale, knowing there was a greater world than the one she lived in and wondering what it would take to get her into it.

Here's the EPK (electronic press kit) in which Gardot discusses the creation of the album:

There were a few different releases of this album. iTunes has an exclusive bonus track, "Pretend I Don't Exist" (presently $1.29 by itself). A Deluxe Edition included a five-track live EP of songs recorded in Paris, all songs from My One and Only Thrill. Of the five, only one ("Baby I'm a Fool") was also performed on the Live in SoHo EP so between the two, there are live versions of eight of the album's twelve songs. She sounds terrific on every one of them.
In November 2010, a different edition was issued. "The Stardust Edition" added "Chill Out Mix" versions of three of the album's songs ("Our Love Is Easy," "Baby I'm a Fool" and "My One and Only Thrill"). In lieu of the Live in Paris bonus disc is instead the four song Bye Bye Blackbird EP recorded with guitarist David Preston. Add it all up and there are twenty five different tracks scattered among the various editions. There have also been a few mixes released exclusively in international markets, and she has already appeared on a handful of collaborations with other artists on their albums.

Gardot's second music video, released ahead of her forthcoming third studio album, The Absence.

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