Charlie Dore – Dark Matter
Black Ink Music – 2017
If you listen to Dark Matter without any prior knowledge, you could be forgiven for not knowing if Charlie Dore is British or American, what tradition she comes from, or indeed whether you are meant to laugh, be intrigued with the clever ideas, or be sad. Well…all of the above. That is the beauty of this album that appeals to the intellect with its wordplay and philosophical issues. It’s difficult to classify, and all the better for it. She is British born but has worked extensively in the States, she is a singer-songwriter, composer (famously providing material for other artists), player of a multitude of instruments, actress; a veritable Renaissance woman!
While the album title, Dark Matter, explicitly refers to the science metaphors and metaphysical aspects, it also refers to the intensely personal subjects, emotional and intellectual struggles, often as memories, and all with a clever mix of humour and melancholy.
Charlie Dore is accompanied by her longtime collaborator, Julian Littman (Steeleye Span) for an acoustic mix of dramatic tracks from a slow, thoughtful song you would expect to find in a musical to intensely personal storytelling, while simultaneously expressing universal themes. The pace changes and musical interludes are beautifully expressed, and the songs have both a traditional and exotic quality.
Her voice is clear and unaffected, with beautiful tremolo which she does not overuse; and she does love her flat notes, which make the songs dramatic and moody.
‘Breakfast of Neutrinos’ has a lovely guitar picking intro leading to lyrics which compare a teenage infatuation and a neutrino via references to high school science lessons, a metaphor which is extended and played with throughout the song. It is both fun and funny at the beginning with a Mexican type rhythm aided by clackers and horn interlude, then the pace slows down and descends into a darker deeper mood about love and its invasive quality in general. Similarly, ‘Two thousand hour lightbulb’ also uses another metaphysical comparison, and makes use of a beautiful counterpoint of violin and chorus. ‘Old Numbers’ relies on a piano accompaniment, and showcases her dramatic side. The number is instilled with a sense of dreariness and disappointment without actually being dreary. The plaintiff high notes add to the dramatic effect. The pace becomes more upbeat with a dance rhythm for a tribute song to Danny Kaye (15 Minutes with Danny Kaye) and her memory of being four years old, being so affected by his comedy, and is also a tribute in general to the uplifting power of art, song, dance, comedy etc. This is followed by ‘Nothing to be Scared of’, a philosophical track drawing slightly on Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy, sleep being a practice run for the real thing and the fear of death. The repetition of ‘scared’ throughout the song is reinforced with the repetition of ‘livin on’. It’s an unusual conundrum, presented where the fact that there is nothing to be scared of is what scares her the most, as life is full of fear and other emotions which is what makes it exciting. A Very worthy debate, beautifully expressed in this very personal sad, clever, dramatic song that everyone can relate to. (did I end that sentence with a preposition? Well artistic licence, so did she in the title, ‘Nothing to be scared of’)
The musicality of ‘Denis and Rose’, featuring mandolin and subtle banjo, and the line, “How long does it take a man to say what’s on his mind when love makes you foolish and hope makes you blind”. This is a more traditional folk style song, lyrical, thought-provoking and poetic. The subjects get darker and deeper as the album continues, and might have ended with ‘Personal Hell’ which has a nightmare theme of the afterlife consisting of a cinema-like re-run of one’s life in real time, which is ‘slow as molasses” (in January… to complete the expression). It is quite dramatic, atmospheric and dark. Instead, maybe to cheer us up the album finishes with ‘A Dog Out Looking For His Day’.
Sometimes specific dates, names and places are mentioned, making the album very intimate and personal, other times only a ‘man’, as in ‘Man In Bed’, faceless, nameless, yet well known to the person singing. The song is both an intimate moment of thought of a long-time relationship, and a general question about how well we can really know our significant other or how far we can follow them, where they go in their thoughts and dreams. These are complex and very grown up topics.
So many instruments, ideas, personal reflections, so clever, beautifully expressed, crafted, sad and happy, small and universal. This works on so many levels, and won’t be categorised. It celebrates and transcends the ordinary, goes on a metaphysical and intellectual journey and takes the listener with it. Loved it!
Charlie Dore is on tour now, visit her website for details here http://www.charliedore.com
Photo Credit: Di Holmes