Melody Gardot: My One and Only Thrill (2009)
The old saying 'stick to what you know' has paid handsome dividends for Melody Gardot, for in writing her own songs she is able to express her considerable talent to the full. With the exception of one non-original, (a Brazilian tinged "Somewhere Over the Rainbow") these self penned songs show that Gardot is a poet bursting with lyricism and a balladeer of real class, spiced with panache. Gardot's voice is her own, but exhibits the intimacy of Peggy Lee, the sensuousness of Julie London, and the worldly blues of Billie Holiday. It also contains a little of the sadness of all three.
These irresistible tunes are given a five star valet treatment by the orchestral arrangements of Vince Mendoza, and the production strengths of Larry Klein. It's difficult to overestimate Mendoza's contribution, as his sublime arrangements tailor to the songs to the point of perfection. Like all great composers and arrangers, Mendoza understands the power of silence, and his lush string interventions are used sparingly and unobtrusively, buoying Gardot at select moments. On the opener "Baby I'm a Fool," strings open like a velvet carpet rolled out to greet Gardot.
When accompanying herself on acoustic guitar or piano, Gardot's star quality radiates. On the delightfully breezy "If the Stars Were Mine," Gardot's guitar infuses her poetry with a Brazilian flavor, and her scat is adorably unselfconscious to boot. Gardot's music is all subtle shades, swinging from light to haunting and dark. On "Who Will Comfort Me," a finger snapping groove, percolating organ and an infectious brass riff cannot conceal Gardot's bleak blues: "My home is a wreckage a family drowned in plight and poverty. Oh Lord who will comfort me."
Gardot's voice on "Your Heart is as Black as Night" shares some of the broken quality of Billie Holiday. The muted trumpet and brass accompaniment recall a Billy Strayhorn arrangement, and the faintly sinister organ adds to the film noir atmosphere of a woman knowingly seduced by a no-good man.
On "Lover Undercover," Gardot purrs over whispering strings and dreamy harp. There's a more pensive tone to her voice on "Our Love is Easy," and the strings this time provide a strangely sympathetic gravitas in this ode to love's imperfections. A blue and mournful trombone underlines a melancholy in the music as Gardot sings: "They say the poison vine breeds a finer wine."
On "Les Etoiles," sung in French, a saxophone adds a splash of color, and the keys of a vibraphone twinkle delicately like the stars of the title. The title track is another intimate poem of love, though not without its dark shadows: "Birds may cease to spread their wings but it don't matter but it don't matter."
Gardot blurs the line between the beauty and pain of loving; hope and hopelessness are thinly disguised mirror images, and romance can be something as elusive as mist, but yet something powerful and all consuming. These songs are poems of beautiful and affecting simplicity, and they leave a taste that is wonderfully bitter sweet.
Track Listing: Baby I'm a Fool; If the Stars Were Mine; Who Will Comfort Me; Your Heart is Black as Night; Lover Undercover; Our Love is Easy; Les Etoiles; The Rain; My One and Only Thrill; Deep Within the Corners of My Mind; Over the Rainbow; If the Stars Were Mine.
Personnel: Melody Gardot: vocals, guitar, piano; Gary Foster: alto saxophone (7); Bryan Rogers: tenor saxophone (3-8, 11); Patrick Hughes: trumpet (3-7, 11); Andy Martin: trombone (6); Ken Pendergast: bass (1, 3, 4, 6-8, 11); Larry Klein: bass (5, 9); Charlie Patierno: drums (1, 3, 7, 11); Vinnie Colaiuta: drums (4-6, 9); Pualinho Da Costa: percussion (2, 3, 11); Behn Gillece: vibraphones (6, 11); Larry Goldings: Hammond organ (3, 4); Darius Campo: violin (1, 5, 6, 9-11); Roberto Cani: violin (1, 5, 6, 9-11); Joel Derouin: violin (1, 5, 6, 9-11); Miran Kojian: violin (1, 5, 6, 9-11); Natalie Leggett: violin (1, 5, 6, 9-11); Liane Mautner: violin (1, 5, 6, 9-11); Robin Olson: violin (1, 5, 6, 9-11); Katia Popov: violin (1, 5, 6, 9-11); Audrey Solomon: violin (1, 5, 6, 9-11); Kevin Connolly: violin (1, 5, 9, 10); Lina Voloshina: violin (6, 11); Alma Fernandy: viola (1, 5, 6, 9-11); Samuel Fornicola: viola (1, 5, 6, 9-11); David Walter: viola (1, 5, 6, 9-11); Roland Kato: viola (1, 5, 9, 10); Jody Rubin: viola (6,11); Larry Corbett: cello (1, 5, 6, 9-11); Cecilia Tsan: cello (1, 5, 6, 9-11); Ira Glansheck: viola (5, 9, 10); Christina Soule: viola (1, 6, 11); Kiko Abondolo: double-bass (1, 5, 6, 9-11); Drew Dembowski: double-bass (1, 5, 6, 9-11); Marcia Dickstein: harp (5, 9, 10); Amy Schulma: harp (1, 6, 11); Patrick Hughes: backing vocals (3); Larry Klein: backing vocals (3); Charlie Patierno: backing vocals (3); Ken Pendergast: backing vocals (3); Bryan Rogers: backing vocals (3).