Let’s start with ODi at their best: live. If you read my review of their gig at the Boston Tea Party, you’ll know how highly I rate them. If you want to see them performing live, check out their performance of The Devil’s Dance on their Facebook page [or see them on tour!]. And it is this live, acoustic sound and where they are now musically that informs my review and thoughts on the cds Maslow’s Songbook and A Superman.
The 2009 cd Maslow’s Songbook seems the beginning of a musical search for identity where the songs and performance are polished and pleasing in their ‘indie’ mode, the first three solidly slotted into that well-crafted pop sensibility. Because my introduction to this duo was an intimate live gig, that more expansive sound is less expected, and as songs on this cd move to more acoustic and ‘solo’ performances I hear their current musical identity much more.
Opener Red Light showcases Claire Odlum’s strong vocal, and the indie arrangement here, both instrumental and vocal harmonies, provides a good example of the polish I have mentioned. Second Something Beautiful was, as described at their recent live gig, a hit in Turkey where the song’s positive lyrics struck a chord in a country needing an upbeat outlet. This has a less affected [arrangement-wise] and therefore purer sound compared with Red Light, the chorus - with indie guitar work - prettily singalongable.
By the fourth track Make It Better, Odlum is singing essentially solo over a piano core and occasional string accompaniment. The apparent simplicity in production here again showcases the vocal and the songcraft in the way an acoustic set necessarily does as well. With Odlum writing RL and MIB, and Dave Redfearn writing SB, it is clear to see the important partnership shared by these two.
Sixth One In A Million, written by Daniel and Emily Norton, is more in the Americana vein that seems to be their natural niche, and played solo is most effective with Redfearn picking an almost-blues riff on guitar and the dual harmony on the chorus carrying it sweetly; here, it is still a powerful arrangement, especially the latter violin and vocal harmonising, that violin also playing the main riff and the simple stomp beat thrusting it forward.
Seventh I’m Done is again acoustic with a simple percussive beat driving the melody along and into its sweet harmonies. Ninth You Win But You Lose is also acoustic and therefore again showcases Odlum’s fulsome vocal. It must be clear how I prefer these acoustic leanings, but that is simply preference and the overall musical quality is such a powerful indication of an emerging talent now hopefully gaining greater recognition.
A Superman is an ep ironically released a year before MS but seems more ‘current’ to the sound of ODi now, or certainly live [well, it does contain two live tracks!]. The title song on cd has a full Americana sound [my term to distinguish from ‘indie’ as working tags simply to help me define] and as so much of what makes ODi excellent is when Claire’s vocal is thoroughly to the fore. The orchestral sweep that rises as the cd track progresses does add a melodramatic weight which is certainly not in any way ineffective [that is dangerously like faint praise, I know]. What I will always recall is how strong the melody of this song struck me when played acoustically and quite delicately, so it’s a comparative preference for the latter.
Second What You Deserve is another fine Odlum song, and its gentle guitar work from Redfearn as well as accompanying harmony provides, for me, the template for what appeals most. Third, the Redfearn song Tears and Wine, is a lovely melody, played beautifully and sung gorgeously and is a genuine gem. There is an echo of Rickie Lee Jones, perhaps more in the songwriting than the vocal, but this is a complimentary link. You can check it out on the ODi Facebook page as well.
From what the duo say on Facebook and at the gig I saw, there is an imminent release which will contain some of this early work, and the tour itself is a way of testing what will form a contemporary reflection of their distinctive sound. It is clear what my preferences would be, but whatever is ultimately collected and added to afresh, I will be keen to hear and to hope there is a wider audience for this memorable duo.