Saturday 23 September 2017

CD Review: A New Way, by Amy Clarke (2017)

Though composed and developed over a number of years, the thirteen carefully crafted songs that make up Amy Clarke’s debut album A New Way form a compelling and cohesive whole. As its title suggests, this is a record that’s concerned with transition and change - its difficulties, challenges, opportunities - and Clarke approaches the theme from a variety of perspectives, offering character portraits, relationship confessionals and spiritual ruminations while sustaining an intimate, confiding tone throughout.    

A single, stark piano note ushers in the arresting opener “Rain Come Round”: the song then picks up pace with rolling percussion and an urgent vocal as Clarke anticipates a tempest to come: “Tornados, I have lived where they land/ But this time I am not frightened/I have built a better border/and I’m safe here from your storm.”     

A New Way is indeed heavily piano-based: the classically trained Clarke is a versatile and creative player who combines jazz, rock, pop and classical elements in her arrangements. Liner note thanks expressed to Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan (with whom Clarke has collaborated) feel apt; in fact, at times the album seems to set up a warm sisterly dialogue with Amos’s just-released latest record, Native Invader [review], in its potent exploration of feminist and ecological themes. The connection is especially evident on the beautiful centrepiece “Between the Ice and the Ocean”, with its “Reindeer King”-evoking imagery, and on  “We Are the Web,” an ardent plea for unity between humans and the natural world: “we must listen to each other/listen to our Mother/to heal her and to make her whole.”

Occasionally, as on the closing “Shine,” Clarke’s lyrics resort to more generic statements of uplift, but the album isn’t afraid to introduce some  discordant elements as well. The terrific “Belmont Blues” is an ambivalent relationship reminiscence delivered in a sultry, defiant style. The elegant and touching “From Here” doubts that divisions can be bridged. “Once” combines graveness and buoyancy to compelling effect. “Goddess” offers a double-tracked, gently percussive, spirits-evoking assertion of personal power and the challenge of its maintenance, as Clarke challenges herself: “I must remember to remember this.”

Still, the album’s tone is, overall, loving, open and conciliatory, as evidenced on the title track, which draws assurance and inspiration from mindful attention to nature’s offerings and a recalibration of perspective. Most moving of all is the celestial “Ella Mira,” a gorgeous ode to unexpected faith wrought from fleeting connection that works as love song, spiritual declaration, and cosmic reflection. Delivered in Clarke’s warmest vocal tones, the song encapsulates the best of A New Way. It's a cleansing and inspiring  album by a talented artist to watch. 

A New Way is released on 5th October 2017. Further information here.