sun 14/07/2024

Album: Josienne Clarke - Parenthesis, I | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Josienne Clarke - Parenthesis, I

Album: Josienne Clarke - Parenthesis, I

Redefining the self, from the most absorbing of British singer-songwriters

'Looking for exits and new entrances, for freedom and autonomy'

Parentheses, I is an album title  (I) – that’s a hieroglyph of the self, the brackets like shields facing opposite ways; and as an artist and performer, Josienne Clarke knows how to use a shield, and how to use a sword, too.

In her albums, especially her recent trio of solo releases, she has taken up arms to redefined her self as an artist, a female singer-songwriter and a woman extricating herself from a duo partnership that may have brought her a BBC Folk Award, but seemed to have brought her to her knees, too. But that was then. Her current standing is to be among the most incisive, unsettling, revealing and absorbing of all British singer-songwriters. 

Her previous set, 2023’s Onliness, was a work of reclamation, a re-recording of songs from earlier in her career – an act similar to Taylor Swift’s own reclamation projects across her Big Machine albums (indeed, I can imagine Swift making good with a cover or two of Clarke’s songs). Here on Parenthesis, I, she draws on the talents of the same supporting musicians from Onliness, with Clarke’s voice, guitar, clarinet, recorder and saxophone backed up by her partner, film-maker Alec Bowman-Clarke on bass, drummer Dave Hamblett, and Matt Robinson on keyboards. It is, she says, “the sound of my journey to some kind of resolution, seeking and finding a safe path of my own”.

Confrontation and vulnerability are two contrasting poles of this set, connected by a directness and honesty that’s turned on the lathe of her natural talents as a writer and singer. Opening song “Friendly Teeth” depicts ‘a truth so strong it bites you on the shoulder with its friendly teeth’)  a typically vivid and compact image that sinks its teeth in, and across the 13 songs on the album, doesn’t let go.

Her vocal delivery is as assured and distinctive as ever, the sometimes melancholic, anxiety-ridden central character in these personal dramas, looking for exits and new entrances, for freedom and autonomy, that journey enriched by the metaphysics of her poetry on songs like “Sphere”, which opens: “When the world has lost its edges you’ll find me where the two ends meet, where the ending is the beginning again and everything’s complete”. The beautiful “Fear of Falling” featuring her unadorned guitar and voice, is a gripping highlight, as is the single, “Most of All”, which is a stripped-back, soul-baring autobiography across its five compact verses. "Forbearing" is seared by her experience of miscarriage, and subsequent dark thoughts; seared too by her honesty and directness, and the hypnotic electric guitar figure she brings to the table. “Double-Edged Sword” is sonically one of the most intriguing pieces, with its double-tracked vocals, slinky electric guitar line, full-band support and a keyboard drone rising to the surface like algae on a still pond.

She’s currently on a UK tour, bringing these new songs to the stage, stripped back to her guitars and that clear, distinctive, intimate vocal style. She’s at Cecil Sharp House in Camden on Tuesday night, and in Glasgow next Saturday. And while Bank Holiday Monday’s forecast promises sunshine, lightning, thunder, rain, you can bottle all that stormy weather and more, in a more potent and distilled form at one of Josienne Clarke’s performances.

@CummingTim

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