Moody, mad and marvellously magical.
Absurdity, weird, strange, and chaotic are not words you might expect to employ when describing your work, but these are just a few of the descriptors used by duo Clay Parker and Jodi James when referring to their third official release, ‘Your Very Own Dream‘.
Parker (vocal, guitar) and James (vocal, guitar) have been writing and recording together for the last ten years. In that time, they have settled into a unique, abstract world where they deliver “compelling songs that solicit repeated listens to decode. The kind where everyone cyphers a separate conclusion, and every supposition is correct”. In other words, songs that you may, eventually, be able to give meaning to, but expect it to be different from the next person. A mark of clever writing, is it not, to leave the deeper meaning open to interpretation, although one might expect at least some hint of a steer in the lyrics.
However, there lies the difference with the Parker-James writings. With some of the songs, it is easy to attribute one’s own meaning, thoughts, or circumstances, but whether any meaning was ever intended for others is questionable. Therefore, if you’d prefer to be eased in, shuffling the order of songs might be advisable to lessen some of the weird or absurd tendencies, at least for your first listen.
Let’s start with the second song on the album, ‘Hey Hey Hey‘. It flows from a gorgeous introduction with ease and has such comforting instrumental pieces that can’t fail to envelop you in a security blanket, although lyrically, it could be deemed to raise as many questions as it gives answers. Whilst the duo’s songs are mainly written with at least a little collaboration, the third song on the album, ‘Nothing At All‘, was written entirely by James. With James on guitar and taking the lead vocal, supported by Parker with some sensational guitar parts and seductive backing vocals, about rejection and resolve, this song is a highlight of the album. With an Annie Dressner-style vibe going on, James’ Southern charm and lyrical astuteness shine through and as if by design, their two voices smoothly reflect the space between those two states.
Rewinding to the beginning, or, if you didn’t shuffle, what you were greeted with when you first pressed play, the opening song, ‘Fire For The Water‘, is where, it could be said, a little strangeness first comes in. As with one or two other songs on the album, ‘Fire For The Water‘ is not easy to give meaning to. It is a series of seemingly disconnected ditties to a rhythm the style of a child’s play tune and, as described by the duo, “allows the listener an immediate immersion into a world uniquely strange and often chaotic where all interactions are possible”.
‘Flatfoot‘, as they describe, and it has to be agreed, is another “daring and weird musical adventure”. It is a lively earworm of a tune but with the strangest of lyrics. That said, it is well worth a listen, not least for the juxtaposition of the scenes and senses it conjures, but with lines such as “Mary and Marie had a man in between“, it is perhaps not one you might want to find yourself singing out loud.
Throughout the album, the pair effortlessly switch between lead and support vocals and ‘In The Cool of The Evening‘ which is, by contrast, a relatively simple, straightforward listen, a raw vocal from Parker is decorated with more of his hypnotic guitar and James’ captivating vocal accompaniment.
‘How High Would I Have To Fly‘ is stunningly old-standard in its formula, with a tranquil and cosy late-night feel. The dueting vocals smoothly intertwining with one another. ‘A Matchbox Song‘ and the title track, ‘Your Very Own Dream‘, both have the ballad hallmark and are magnificently portrayed. Not least, the former, with its sumptuous guitar breaks. The title track is also very alluring, although when you consider the lyrics, they are actually as abstract and absurd as a dream could be. After having had a strange dream, James tells how she wrote the first, somewhat bizarre line, “The crow flew straight into the horse’s face today“. Then, later the same day, having learned of the death of John Prine, she wrote the second line, “And I heard the news that they were hauling you away“. By her admission, James says she realises those two lines didn’t connect, but she felt that was the exact reality she was grappling with that day. She also uses the word ‘absurdity’ when relating to this song but, for the record, clearly states, “absurdity is not the aim… the expression of truth and beauty is. And the point of Your Very Own Dream is that we don’t get to define those things. We only get to experience them”. It is profound and poetic.