Taking temporary leave of absence from The Magic Numbers, before they get embedded in the Festival season, Michele Stodart releases Pieces, her second solo album and follow up to 2012’s Wide-Eyed Crossing. More considered, more intimate and lyrically more about the storytelling. To which end it’s very much about relationships, with others and yourself, sometimes about letting go of toxic ones, sometimes about holding on to those that aren’t and, on Ain’t No Woman, the obverse of such country classics as Stand By Your Man, about finding self-respect and standing up for yourself. Slow and coloured in shades of blues and country, it’s a perfect example of the album’s musical tones, a far rootsier approach than that of the band she’s more commonly associated with.
Come Back Home, for example, is steeped in the gospel-tinged blues and harks to the emotion-drenched work of Christine Perfect in her Chicken Shack days, its melancholic mood and pace echoed in the desperate slow waltzing When Is It Over?, a song, written in a Belgium hotel room, about the darkness that still clings to us even when we’ve shaken off an abusive relationship, Stodart’s anguished delivery bolstered by a sweeping strings arrangement.
Strings, cello in particular, are also effectively used, albeit in a more ornate and restrained manner, providing the sole backing on the hushed blues Something About You, a plaintively sung number to her younger self about how “life waits for no girl who fears the dance of letting go.”
As you’ll have gathered, this isn’t an album to work up a sweat, rather one to soak up in the darker, ebbing hours of the day, Stodart’s voice often in nakedly confessional mode, as with, backed by sonorous piano and strings, the melodically dreamy Just Anyone Won’t Do, a study in the overwhelming loss of a long-term relationship that leaves behind “a place to the left of you, still cold and unlaid in” where “the silence is all that you share”. As she says, the more intense the love, the greater the fear of losing it and never finding anything to compare.
There are moments when the volume rises, but these are only brief pulses, as with the resonator guitar line that runs through Oh By & By, a spare, brooding track which, in its choral harmonies and churchy organ, almost has the feel of some Southern hymnal.
If the blues, to various degrees, inform much of the material, there are two numbers that step into other related fields. Although adorned by mournful violin, the six minute, acoustic guitar accompanied ballad Once On A While (a socially conscious number inspired by coming across a badly burned homeless man) is most distinctively a country track, Stodart, harmonising with herself and suggesting a female Van Zandt or Kristofferson. By contrast, Will You Wait is tinkling, fingerpicked folksiness, a lovely song about growing old together where she asks “will you wait for me my dearest friend when our teeth turn green and our hair grey at the ends?”
The album ends on a similar theme with the drifting seven-minute Over The Hill, a song, enrobed in a dawn mist ambience and closing on a gathering four-minute acoustic instrumental storm, about the unknown calling from ahead and following the sun, but also about mortality, weathering adversity and the faith that “we’ll meet again.”
It’s an album about opening up a piece, or, indeed, pieces of your heart and feeling life and the emotions it brings to their fullest intensity, couched in simple, but instantly engaging and evocative melodies and sung with an open and honest conviction that reflects the experiences that inform her words. According to one of the dictionary definitions of pieces, they are individual parts that fit together to form a whole. Individually and in sum, Stodart’s album is a thing of perfection.
Pieces is released on 8th July via One Little Indian
07 – The Islington, London
08 – The Eagle Inn, Salford
28 – The Spa Hotel, Saltburn-by-the-Sea
31 – Phoenix, Exeter
01 – Fat Lils, Witney
09 – The Studio, Hartlepool
10 – Cluny 2, Newcastle Upon Tyne
11 – The Greystones, Sheffield
12 – The Hug and Pint, Glasgow
13 – Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh