Michele Stodart - Invitation
In this age of the streaming - it brings joy to a reviewers heart when an artist pays real care and attention when considering their packaging and the latest offering from Michele Stodart "Invitation" is a beautiful fight back for the physical product. Each track comes its own illustration drawn by Joni Belaruski and they are as absorbing as the music with which they are attached. There is a also a heartfelt dedication at the front of the booklet that tells us that the album is "about inviting in the darkness, the hard times, the ray of light, sadness, anger, love loss and grief". One other thing to note "the crows" represent transformation change, and freedom". There is also a section of gratitudes at the back, that all form part of the jigsaw that makes this project complete.
The album opens with the debut single "Tell Me". It's a creation from a songwriters retreat rather than personal experience however that in no way takes away from the unfolding events which seem vividly real and are being played out somewhere for sure. To a piano that reflects the seriousness of the situation we are immediately thrust into a confrontation of the most serious kind - where the stakes could not be higher
"Tell me, tell me it's not over - tell me there's no other
Who could make you smile
Go on and lie to me
Tell me there's no chance you'd leave
that walking out that door is something you'd ever do
and I don't stand the chance of losing you"
It's drama of the highest order because the person speaking undoubtedly already knows the answer - Michele captures this in her jazz like vocal delivery, not with anger just forlorn sadness.
The chorus is a lovely melody that gradually, liltingly rises
"Are there any of the other sides to me that you couldn't love?
Are there any of the other sides to me that you couldn't take dreaming of?
The second verse is accepting to a point that there must be another party involved, however there is no sign of resignation and the the delivery changes to a breathy anger - it could easily be shouted however Michele retains the impact by being just above a whisper.
"Tell her, tell her that you are mine -
Tell her that these lies you share have ran the test of time
Go on and tell her, tell her what a fool you've been
Somehow you'll stay friends - but it will have to end
Cos love could never be the same again"
The second chorus sees the arrival of some additional keyboards adding a sense of atmosphere
"Is it worth it - all of these tears?" the line is barely audible
The song ends on the haunting "Tell me it's not over"
"The House" has a wonderful 30 second intro of guitar piano and percussion before a word is uttered. It seems to be about a visit to a now dilapidated childhood house, "a shell that we once called home". Normally these are happy occasions but that is not the vibe running through the track
"When your words travelled through - Brought me down a peg or two and still falling
Living here in my head, My imaginings, There's no escaping"
The vocals are delicately delivered, the words all but tumble out at times, the instrumentation mainly creates an atmosphere as opposed to playing a tune. The drums are subtle they provide a light touch, the piano occasionally burst into life but mainly it sits in the background.
The picture painted is not necessarily of happy times recalled with fondness.
"There's no place here to grow for the heart and soul"
Did the music leave the day we closed the door?"
"Push and Pull" opens to something of a dilemma
"Oh I'm sat here on this platform and the train is up and gone
They same home is where the heart is that ain't' where I'm going
And the cold breeze is blowing, 'neath the jacket to my skin
There's a final destination, I just can't see where that is"
There's a repeating string section line that seems to swirl and get ever more insistent as Michele's vocals grow ever more expressive. The song deals with the life of a musician and the enforced separation from loved ones that it must bring.
"These Bones" is the second single to be released from "Invitation", it has a recurring guitar refrain running through it that hypnotically meanders around your mind, combined with Michele's jazzy conversational style vocal throughout this track is quite unlike anything else on the record.
Prominent percussion from CJ Jones really compliments that guitar refrain to great effect while the bass and piano are also sublime.
It seems to be a combination of saying goodbye to one life that is not delivering any sort of happiness
"These bones are aching love"
and heading to one less certain, though one in which you are in control of
"Staring blindly at the crossroads of which to take"
The chorus each time it comes round sees the song burst into life, and confirms that need to reclaim and reinvent oneself or else face a gloomy future.
"Your body needs a shaking just to wake you up from inside
Coz I ain't hanging round to die".
"Undone" sees the vocals barely whispered, the guitar barely touched, - it's a delicate spiders web of a tune, seemingly so fragile that it could fall apart at any moment while at the same time being incredibly strong providing the support to allow Michele to slowly announce her vocals. Of all the images attached to the songs the one attached to "Undone" of an solitary eyeball with mascara running is possibly the most disturbing
Half way through there is a change to a more ambient sound, a drum machine, synthesisers and piano - it becomes almost a separate song, with Michele's vocals at their loudest as she sings "The Shape Of You"
"Come Dance With Me" is a 6 minute creation that initially, for nearly 40 seconds is just a carefully played acoustic guitar, it gives little hint of quite how dramatic the opening lines will be - it also hints back to the sleeve notes welcoming in the dark - there is a definite air of despair
"When the world at you feet has been ripped from beneath
And the steps that you take are the ones you can't see
Will the falling get easier in time as you go?
Is it better these thoughts are kept locked? I don't know"
There's a definite transition from the verse to the chorus - if the verses are full of doubt and fear of what may be ahead with a feeling of loneliness attached to them - the choruses embrace the future, wherever it may lead, whatever it may bring because it is a path not being trod alone.
"Don't just show me the good times baby - we're better off free"
Strangely for a song of such length it seems to pass very quickly, Michele and her players create a world that is totally absorbing
"The Good Fight" is a song of separation, it details the dissolving of a relationship, for as Michele notes
"I can't be the only one who's fighting to stay".
It sees the separating of the record collection and the emptying of drawers. until
"There's nothing left of me in this place".
It leaves the question "Were did our love go so wrong?
Musically it is probably the most easily accessible track on the album, all of the players contribute, with synths, soothing strings, gentle yet effective percussion and Michele at her most upfront in the overall mix.
The album closes, with a six minute epic in "Drowning", a brooding slow burner - so slow that opening 20 seconds is an almost eerie silence, just the faintest sounds that someone is even there yet certainly nothing that you would call musical. It does manage to set the scene though for when the instruments do arrive this again continues for a further 40 seconds before Michele utters the first words. the accompanying picture for this tune sees Michele's head already partially submerged.
Musically it is more a soundscape than a traditional tune you can hum, yet it provides the backing for possibly the most affecting performance of the whole record as Michele crystalizes how it feels to be depressed, and to disappear and withdraw further and further into the darkness.
"The knot in my stomach and the lump in my throat - Breathes heavy on my body makes it harder to float
Yes I'll keep this dull aching pain, that anchors my shoulders, feeds the need that I crave to be this burning reminder
Of the mistakes I have made"
The words "I'm drowning" are delivered in the most heartbreaking of ways - and the song fades with the sound of electric guitars and synths fading like someone slipping under the water.
As an album of songs it is undoubtedly not the cheeriest collection you will hear this year, yet it is mainly the embodiment of the darker side of a journey that has hopefully now reached calmer waters. The production throughout never seeks to clutter the tunes with needless additions, there is plenty of space which allows the songs to breathe and become truly atmospheric
The project would not be complete without guiding you towards the 2 accompanying videos released so far that give a visual perspective to this most intriguing of releases.
These Bones video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TLEntX2T6w
Tell Me video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOvSWslENbc
Invitation is available now