Jodie Marie – The Answer
(Review by Kevin McGrath)
Singer/songwriter Jodie Marie was still a teenager when she put pen to paper on an album deal with the world-renowned Decca Records (depending on whether you regard American Decca and British Decca as part of the same corporate entity, the legendary label can boast artists of the calibre of Billie Holliday, Louis Armstrong, Patsy Cline, Robert Plant and Shirley Bassey as part of its jaw-dropping back catalogue). The resulting debut, Mountain Echo (2012), developed and recorded under the tutelage of former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, was a fine first effort: a pastoral-pop collection of radio-friendly 45’s such as “On the Road”, “Single Blank Canvas” and “I Got You” that earned the singer an appearance on BBC Breakfast Time and a session for Weekend Wogan. Unfortunately, Decca opted to pull the plug on the deal, presumably because there hadn’t been a hit single to show for their largesse? The singer had a refreshingly charitable view of Decca’s short-termism, however, telling Wales Arts Review ‘You hear these horror stories about major labels, I couldn’t have asked for better with them’.
There were even tougher times ahead, and it wasn’t until 2015 that Jodie Marie was able to self-release her sophomore album. Perhaps reflecting the singer’s own personal and professional circumstances, the sublime Trouble in Mind was a considerably more contemplative and sad-eyed affair than its breezy predecessor. Examining the bipolar nature of love on a suite of sunny side up love songs (“I Need Someone”, “Only One I’m Thinking Of”) and tear-strewn ballads (“For Your Love”, “I Miss You”), Jodie Marie began a transformation from singer/songwriter to soul shouter that has been fully realised with the arrival of her glorious new album for Caru, The Answer.
The Answer hits the (dance) floor running with a pair of exultant, life-affirming earworms “You Are My Life” and “Ain’t No Doubt About It”, which kicks off with its supremely catchy chorus and gets even better from there! Both tracks benefit greatly from an organic approach to production (The Answer was largely recorded at Carmel, an analogue studio set in a converted chapel at the foot of the Preseli Hills) which gives the album an unmistakeable air of authenticity and a vintage-soul vibe to boot.
Next up is the lead single from the album, “Carageen”, the sole track here that harks back to Mountain Echo, and it re-unites the singer with former songwriting partner Ed Harcourt. This gentle, contemplative pop song does temporarily break the bewitching spell that the album seeks to cast over the listener, but it’s such a beautiful track that I can’t begrudge its inclusion here. Jodie Marie comes out swinging again on the thumping “A Whole Lot of Loving” a sassy new song that somewhat magically has the classic feel of an old favourite about it. It’s a pretty neat trick to top one showstopping tune with another, but “Curse The Day” (produced by Harcourt) raises the stakes again, working itself up into a fury and ending in a frenzied Jimmy Brewer (guitar) wig out, replete with a crowd-pleasing chorus of woo-hoos’. The zany energy of this track will bring the house down live!
After reaching boiling point, the singer wisely lowers the temperature somewhat on “Kiss These Tears Away”, an Etta James-inspired ballad that is particularly noteworthy for its understated vocal, and the title track itself. Originally written as a rock song, and about to be discarded because it wasn’t quite compatible with the concept of the album, “The Answer” was imaginatively re-worked at the last-minute so as to blend in with the rest of the record. “Saving Grace”, a love story inspired by the singer’s grandparents, has the sort of stately beauty that Mary Chapin Carpenter and Amy Speace regularly bring to their best work.
The tempo is jump-started again on “Hanging By A String”. I remember hearing Jodie Marie ‘road test’ this at a Record Store Day gig in Newport a few years back, but I don’t recall it sounding THIS good. Credit, then, to the boys in this fine band – Jimmy Brewer (guitar), Tom Sinnett (bass), Jack Beddis (drums) and producer Owain Fleetwood Jenkins who chips in here and there on synth, Hammond organ and drums! A record this special just has to finish big, and Jodie Marie gets it spot on with the second single from the album “This House”, built around a mesmeric Tom Sinnett bass part, and the truly astounding “You’re Gonna Miss Me (When I’m Gone”). The latter, a stone-cold soul classic with a beautifully appointed vocal, will be closing the singer’s sets for years to come, and could have been a number one record in any decade from the fifties onwards, on either side of the Atlantic! Importantly, the song, co-written and produced by Dan Smith, made such an impression on the singer that it set the template, instrumentally and sonically, for the album as a whole.
The Answer is a stunning success, a stirring soul album, deeply enriched with emotion as all the very best soul records are. It’s a team effort, for sure, with an ace band, collaborative songwriters and Owain Fleetwood Jenkins, as producer-in-chief, overseeing the project at a micro level, as well as keeping the grand vision for the album always to the fore. Jodie Marie, who singlehandedly wrote eight of these sensational songs and who sings with passion, compassion and control throughout is the undoubted star of the show, though. When these present times are past, and bands are back out on the road again, Jodie should step out from behind her keyboard and take centre stage fronting her own kick-ass soul combo.
Kevin McGrath is author of “Pop Hack” which is available at: