Catherine Clarnette – Bold – Album Review
I’m up late here in Canada…almost 2 a.m. in the morning…not running out of steam whatsoever, I’m still wide-awake…but truthfully, I needed some music with real character and life to it…a little bit of something that I might not hear amidst the soundtrack of the everyday-grind.
And then I stumbled upon Australia’s young & beautiful singer/songwriter Catherine Clarnette – and everything instantly seemed to head in the exact direction I was looking for tonight/this morning in the wee-hours of late-night. Her new album Bold isn’t like anything else on my normal playlist – and you know I’m always up for another all-new experience! Combine that with coming from the continent whose music I’d hold up with the very best out there year after year and you better believe I’m interested in what Catherine would come up with on the vocally-savvy album Bold.
This record goes on to explore a whole array of sounds and ideas; it starts with a brilliantly executed jazzy-vibe in “Couldn’t Let You Win.” You instantly get the real passion that Catherine brings to her music and the incredible focus of a real professional. She absolutely brings life to the words through the rhythmic vocal-flow of “Couldn’t Let You Win” and even though the lyrics depict a tough emotional struggle, the overall sound is incredibly uplifting in this first tune. I’ll say this with certainty – she’s not singing about us as listeners on this first song…because you certainly win just by hearing this opening number – Catherine sounds fantastic right off the bat on Bold.
Even a song like “Tango” which for the most part would conjure up images and memories of music far different from this idea – she’s updated the sound of the “Tango” here cleverly without really letting us realize it too much. I mean…traditionally-speaking I’m sure I was done with whatever sounds of Tango-music I heard decades ago…just wasn’t my thing. As I got older…moved into bands that incorporated real theatrics and dramatics like this in their music like Hooverphonic – I learned to really appreciate sounds like what you’ll hear on Clarnette’s “Tango.” Is it my favorite? No. Do I like it? Actually, yes. I was surprised at just how much time I had for Catherine’s updated-take on the “Tango” sound…she’s infused it perfectly with real pop-sensibility that makes for quite an accessible and inviting listen.
By the third song “It Won’t Be Me” you’ll begin to realize that Catherine can take her voice confidently into any kind of sound, style or genre and achieve stunning results. “It Won’t Be Me” is a seriously tough song on anyone that’s been stuck in ‘the friend zone’ and misinterpreted the friendship to be something more. Set against an excellent light-electro beat – she builds this one solidly towards the increased rhythm & energy of the chorus…but MAN if those aren’t some unforgiving words m’lady! I can’t speak to the situation directly…of course I wasn’t there myself…but from the sounds of it Catherine’s missing a bit of the empathy required to understand the other side of the emotions involved and how they may/may-not feel in the aftermath. That being said, the song addresses that directly…it’s whether or not you buy into the explanation…and I don’t know…that one sounds like a tough one to decide on. I’ve never been in ‘the friend zone’ so I really couldn’t say myself…but I can imagine making that kind of move towards the next level out of genuine caring and what it would feel like to have that rejected. “It Won’t Be Me” was a favorite of mine on this record because it had a great beat and truly made me think about the intentions of its author. I believe it’s meant to be written in an empowering way…but I’m not sure it comes out any warmer than cold through the lyricism on “It Won’t Be Me” – I’d be interested to hear what other people think of this one and how they interpret it. I think it’s the kind of song you’ll talk about the next day…and whether or not you agree or disagree with what she’s saying here, there’s undeniable value in that kind of polarization.
Bold she certainly is…her voice is magnificently expressive and really does convey a whole host of emotions when you listen. Loved the opening to “Never Live The Same Way” and how it leaves her nearly on her own throughout the beginning – she sounds great in this song and shows real range in her tone and energy through her performance. I think “Never Live The Same Way” is the kind of writing that lasts on a record…I don’t think this song is necessary built upon hooks that are easy to digest…these are the kind of songs and emotions that you’ll think about long afterwards. She’s written great parts here…the piano and percussion combination sounds excellent and the harmonies too – it’s five and a half-minutes of real adventure and worthwhile listening. The kind of structure you look back upon and marvel with a genuine ‘how did she just put all that together?’ because rather than deliver a hook or two that might standout for a single moment or two – she’s created one massively captivating track with “Never Live The Same Way” that completely entertains from beginning to end.
The combination of low-end bass, beat and synth on “Dangerous Game” comes out sounding incredibly stylistic and smooth. Catherine weaves her words around cleverly in the flow and lyrics once again. Somewhere in the middle of Lily Allen and Esthero in tone and style…it’s hard to say if “Dangerous Game” is a piece of advice or direct warning – and again, I think that ambiguity in Catherine’s material makes it become much more than just an average listening experience. She truly has written Bold songs here…depending on how you hear them yourself, there are multiple-meanings that can be derived from the words she sings so beautifully. I think if anything, she’s learned the time-old trick of turning emotion and turmoil into real art – and she’s done a great job on that throughout the different ideas and directions she’s taken on throughout this record. Even a track like “The Only Words I Know” which heads towards a more anthem-80’s sound offers something different from the past songs we’ve heard on the album. While I think her style suited me best in songs like “Couldn’t Let You Win” or “It Won’t Be Me,” I seriously respect the amount of ambition she has in the range of styles she’s taken on.
“The Only Words I Know” is a good track…I wouldn’t knock it, just wasn’t the standout for me despite the pumped-up sound of its chorus trying its best to get noticed. For me…to really hear Catherine Clarnette…to get a glimpse of the real heart & soul of this enigmatic songstress, “Belong On My Mind” is about as incredible of an experience as you can ask for. She has written a seriously powerful, emotionally dramatic and darkly-beautiful song with “Belong On My Mind” and really nailed this one thoroughly. Not an easy song to sing by any stretch…a lot of range here once again; while she might not be going for huge, soaring notes here on this tune, she still hits a lot of real low-tones spot-on. Most importantly…you really feel the words she’s written here…they bury themselves right into you. Against a melancholy piano and strings that echo the sentiment of the lyrics and emotional struggle she’s in on “Belong On My Mind” – I can’t say enough about this tune…it’s powerful enough to induce tears through its authenticity. Catherine’s created a seriously emotionally-intense atmosphere on “Belong On My Mind” that is an unforgettable highlight on this record as far as I’m concerned.
I do think that the diversity of this album might also indicate that Catherine is still somewhat testing the waters on where she ‘fits’ or what ‘works’ for her sound. There’s a tendency to go towards the pop-side on tracks like “The Only Words I Know” or “Back In My Own Bed” – and again, I think she does a good job…but for me songs like “Couldn’t Let You Win” or “Belong On My Mind” really show that focus and serious songwriter in her. I get the rhythm and groove of a track like “Back In My Own Bed” has its own appeal…she does it well and I’m not saying she doesn’t – I am saying that there are other songs on this record that do more to define her sound, direction and art more clearly. The pop-side of Catherine runs a dangerous risk of getting her lost against a sea of competition all attempting similar sounds…and the real depth of the character of her voice seems to rise to the challenge a little bit more on less-explored terrain. Even “You’re The One Who Left Me” sits right close to that edge where you might just miss how incredibly skilled and versatile her voice really is. “You’re The One Who Left Me” sounds like a mix of old-school 80’s synth/beat with more modern-day hit-songwriting…which kind of skews the results on how listeners might feel about this one. I think there’s a great rhythm and flow to the song overall…but it’s tougher to feel that genuine connection to the words that you’ve been able to feel on many of the songs from Catherine on Bold.
Essentially what I’m saying is that she can cruise full-speed towards fighting for attention every single day of her life in the pop-genres…which she may/may-not receive due to luck & exposure alone…OR…she could just go ahead and dominate the charts in jazz/soft-rock or adult contemporary. She gets to make that choice, each time she writes a new song. With her talents proving to be exceptionally stunning on songs like “Elegy” – I know which direction I’d be choosing if I were Catherine. Not saying it’s not worth fighting for if she truly wants to go the pop direction…I am saying it’s completely worth exploring the other option I’ve mentioned as the room in those genres is widespread, accepting – and truly needs a new champion like Catherine. Just sayin.’ I can understand that some of this material might be more ‘fun’ to play and write sometimes…but at the same time, when you hear what she’s capable of writing on an emotional piece like “Elegy” you can’t help but feel like time completely stops around you. Do we ignore the shivers down our spines when we get them like we do listening to “Elegy?” That’s not what got me to following my own dreams…I always thought that extra pull you can feel in the emotional power of a song like “Elegy” and how strong the connection is between the words and lyrics like this is a complete indication of the kind of directions to explore further. So…if there is a chance that Catherine is still looking for which way to take her music and career & she IS still testing the waters with the different reactions to the music on Bold…well…all I’m saying is I vote for this path…whichever path “Elegy” is on, that’s the side you’ll find me on too.
Clearly, I’m arguing on behalf of the ‘softer’ side of Catherine’s work…but I’ll give you all the ammunition you need to shut down my case with just two words: “Role Models.” I mean…I can’t deny this one…there’s no possible way anyone COULD, could they? “Role Models” is THE example of Catherine at her finest of the up-tempo-vibes and songs you’ll find on Bold – and it couldn’t be better timed. Really raising-up her game towards the end of this record, the electro-pulse and atmosphere of “Role Models” is seriously intoxicating – Catherine’s right into this one and you can hear the difference it makes. Again…in her defense, there’s no choice BUT to be right into this song – “Role Models” is incredibly addicting and wild.
“No Evidence” leans a bit towards the history in the pop/rock genre once again but like a true professional – Catherine finds a way to really make these final moments standout and leave an impression on us. The writing in this final tune takes us on a solid journey and continues to echo the energy and confidence of its main star. Drawing again on emotionally heavy material expressing complex feelings with a real point of view and perspective – “No Evidence” leaves us on an empowering note whereby you can hear that Clarnette has endured the pain and emotional-scarring that comes along with living life…and you can hear that she’s come out better, stronger and smarter on the other side of it all. She ends the record with resounding confidence written into the core of the material you’ll find all over this album…she’s made Bold moves by expressing herself, her thoughts and her feelings so clearly – and I think she comes out of the experience truly winning with stunning music as a result.
Find out more about Catherine Clarnette at: http://www.catherineclarnette.com/