Kevin McGrath reviews Jodie Marie’s new album Trouble in Mind, inspired by the singer’s love of blues, soul and jazz music.
Three years on from the release of her debut album, the pastoral folk-pop collection Mountain Echo, (a record which, in retrospect, can be seen as marking both the beginning and the end of a nascent pop career) singer-songwriter Jodie Marie has returned from self-imposed exile to deliver an altogether more nuanced, more substantial suite of songs for her much anticipated sophomore record. Trouble in Mind is a work inspired by the singer’s love of Blues, Soul and Jazz; musical influences that can be heard to heart-wrenching effect throughout , though particularly on the exquisite sequence of broken-hearted ballads that make this such a memorable record.
The album begins, though, as it doesn’t mean to go on, with a pair of celebratory love songs. The exultant, love-struck opener, “I Need Someone”, with its heart-on-sleeve refrain of ‘you’re the reason my heart beats’, leaves no one in any doubt as to the singer’s joyous state of mind! It’s followed by the even more jubilant, sunnyside-up soul of excellent new single “Only One I’m Thinking Of”. Just as we are beginning to wonder if Jodie Marie has her heart set on recreating the romantic vibe of Van Morrison’s sweet-natured Caledonian soul epic Tupelo Honey (perhaps rock music’s best known paean to domestic bliss), the slow-cooked, old-school soul of “If We Try” casts a shadow that threatens to blot out her homely happiness. Suddenly, a comparison with landmark “confessional” albums like Joni Mitchell’s Blue or Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks seems more apposite.
A perfectly understated cover of Tim Hardin’s folk-standard “Reason to Believe” sours the mood further, raising the spectre of infidelity. It’s a theme that dominates the album’s second act. The bluesy lament of “For Your Love” will have barflies all along the Pembrokeshire coast crying into their beers, whilst the downcast ballad “Everyone Makes Mistakes”, with its sickening acknowledgement – ‘After all is said and done / You will wash your hands of me’, is perhaps the best thing she’s ever written! Until, that is, you hear the very next track, a bruising piano ballad with a devastatingly truthful chorus: ‘Cause I miss you and there’s nothing that could hurt me more’. It’s a song which reaches the bleakest of conclusions, ‘Life has no heart / not a care for the way that I’m feeling’.
These are songs of such melancholy beauty that they stand comparison with the legendary series of “mood indigo” albums that Sinatra cut for Capitol, first with Nelson Riddle, and then with Gordon Jenkins during the 1950’s. The dark night of the soul eventually dissipates, however, and by the album’s close a note of defiance can be detected in the thumping R&B of “I Still Care (PT I) as well as on the honeyed burr of Trouble in Mind’s final track “Later than You Think”. It’s those exquisite ballads, however, each sung with a passion and finesse that calls to mind the best moments of Laura Nyro that will remain long in the memory.
Whilst Mountain Echo was an album of sunrises and sunsets, of moonlight and ocean mists, its campestral lyric reflecting an idyllic childhood lived along Pembrokeshire’s Landsker Borderlands, Trouble in Mind contains not a single reference to nature, or indeed, the outside world in any shape or form. It’s a claustrophobic, nocturnal record, set entirely within the haunted house of the human heart. It’s an album of candlelight and ticking clocks, of straight-faced lies and sleepless nights. Trouble in Mind, then, is the kind of album that comes along once in an artist’s lifetime, if they’ve been lucky enough to pick up a four leaf clover along the way that is! It’s worth getting acquainted with Jodie Marie and these marvellous songs, you’ll be glad to have heard them all, and one or two might just become your travelling companions for life.
Kevin McGrath is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.