Album: Currency of Man
Artist: Melody Gardot
’Cause I believe in a world where we all belong,
And I’m so tired o’ seein’ every good man gone. ~Melodie Gardot, “Preacher Man”
The above quote is from a song that memorialises the brutal racist killing of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955. This is the track that sits at the zenith of the story arc comprising this series of original songs, a story arc that starts off with a compassionate soul’s expressions of anger and grief at injustice and ends with— well, something quite different.
The album’s title is a case in point. In Melodie’s own words: “This album is about our worth in this world, and how everyone, no matter their status, or origins, or color of their skin, holds a purpose.”
Currency of Man is like an Old Testament psalm; it begins with despair, angst, and dire predictions and ends with deep affirmations of love and unconditional personal worth. One of the divinely uplifting songs toward the end of the album is “Once I Was Loved,” its music as deeply comforting as its words:
I still surrender troubles I know.
No use pretending that troubles ain’t my home.
But I am certain that what is enough is just to remember that once, once I was loved.
Philadephia’s Melodie Gardot was leading a relatively mediocre life as a fashion student until one day she was cycling and was hit by a car. Recovering from the head injuries and multiple fractures required a lengthy hospital stay. It was there, in the hospital, that Gardot became a songwriter; the music healed her at the same time as the accident provided the circumstances, however painful, for discovering and exercising her deepest gifts.
She chooses a subdued rhythm-and-blues vocal delivery but that’s really neither here nor there; her very authentic and mindful emotion is far more salient than her style.
In addition to the high quality of the basic package, a lot of creativity went into the arrangement and production of these songs. There’s a wonderfully retro sound that’s a mishmash of sixties film scores, soul, funk, gospel, and psychedelia, a little like Grace Slick with a Tom Waits aesthetic.
Kudos to both Gardot and famed producer, Larry Klein, for pulling off another masterpiece, but a large share of the credit should go to French sound engineer, Maxime LeGuil, an expert in vintage recording equipment and techniques, for being so open to experimenting with Gardot’s ideas about the impact of music on emotion.
Gardot has created a kind of catharsis, a going deep into despair in order to find light, which is often a necessary step on the path to spiritual high ground. Listening to Currency of Man is like a journey into pain and back out again: at first it hurts bad, then not so much, then a poignancy enters, and then, slowly, comes the ascension to a joy so much sweeter than what would have been had you never suffered.
Currency of Man manifests seven of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for music well worth a listen.
• It’s authentic, original, and delightful.
• It harmoniously unites art with social action, saving me from both seclusion in an ivory tower and slavery to someone else’s political agenda.
• It’s about attainment of the true self.
• It inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation.
• It displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering.
• It renews my enthusiasm for positive social action.
• It makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomena, making living a unique opportunity.