Ten years ago Diana Krall began making lustrously upholstered albums with the
producer Tommy LiPuma that sold in their millions. Music moguls sniffed the
wind and realised that even in the hip-hop and happening Noughties there was
going to be a market for sweet-voiced chanteuses with one elegant foot
plonked firmly in the past. Jane Monheit wooed America singing arrangements
that the Mad Men would have found passé; shy Norah Jones and the former
busker Madeleine Peyroux were propelled blinking into the spotlight. In
Britain Universal tried to ease Gwyneth Herbert into the “nostalgia babe”
mould, but the singer-songwriter proved too free-spirited.
So what to make of Melody Gardot (see concert review, facing page), the
Philadelphia-born beauty whose second album barrels in on a wave of
publicity? She too rootles through the retro. There are shades of Peggy Lee,
and - when the massed strings swell and the mood darkens - bittersweet
memories of Julie London. But mostly what we get is Gardot, who, at 23, is
an extraordinarily assured and mature singer-songwriter blending blues, pop
With her first album came a poignant back story. She began writing songs only
while recovering from a near-fatal road accident when she was 19. The result
was a charming set of self-composed folksy blues and jazz, Worrisome Heart,
with the occasional hint of something deeper (Love Me Like a River). My One
and Only Thrill builds on that promise and is something altogether more
sophisticated. There are still rootsy grooves here: the finger-snapping
gospel of Who Will Comfort Me; the jazz-noir of Your Heart is as Black as
the Night, while Les Etoiles is breezy Latin-lite.
But it's the balladry that makes this album stand out. For once massed banks
of fiddles in the jazz studio don't automatically trigger a saccharin alert.
On Our Love is Easy Gardot's vocals ride the ebb and swell of Vince
Mendoza's strings to dramatic effect. The stand-out, though, is the title
track, whose climax will soften the hardest of hearts. There's a delicious
ambiguity in her lyrics, too: Gardot seems to be celebrating romantic love
at its finest, yet somehow, you suspect, it's all going to end badly.
Next comes the beautiful, but similarly stately and string-laden Deep Within
the Corners of My Mind, which smacks slightly of overkill, before Gardot
signs off, lightening the mood with Over the Rainbow. It's a perky Latin
arrangement but a corny option after so much original material. Still, these
are minor quibbles. This is an exceptional album and anyone who thought the
great age of the torch singer was long over should lend an ear.