When I first got a copy of Melody Gardot’s first cd, Worrisome Heart, released in 2008, I was first put off by the cover shot. Something about those fashion eyeglasses made me think she was some kind of poser. Well, guess I’m not good at semiotics, the science of signs you study in comparative literature classes as I did; mullets mean country or hopelessly out-of-date; winged monsters with a hellish, Dantesque background means heavy metal. A unicorn or a rainbow means new age. This is how I have “read” album cover art over the years.
Well, I was wrong, terribly wrong and really stupid with Melody. Tom, you idiot, she wears glasses because she is hypersensitive to light, the result of a horrible accident in 2003. She was on a bike when she was hit by a Jeep Cherokee that had blown a red light. She suffered severe head and spinal injuries that impaired her motor and neural function. Her hips were shattered. She lost all memory. She had been a good pianist but lost all of that, both memory and motor skills. She was severely impaired on all fronts, and spent a year in the hospital.
While in the hospital a doctor thought she might benefit from music therapy. Gardot started writing music at that point. She learned to hum, then to sing. To play the guitar while lying on her back——any other way stressed her damaged spine too much. And it was through music therapy–and plenty of physical therapy too– that eventually helped her to regain her former musical skills; music helped revive and restore neural pathways, the brain wiring that that helps us live and function. She still has to use a cane.
Oliver Sacks has written about this. So has Daniel Levitin, a Canadian researcher whose book This is Your Brain on Music is a pioneering study of how music can heal damaged nervous systems and restore brain and motor function.
Gardot just came out with a new album, her third, called The Absence. On her second album, My One and Only Thrill, we see on the cover an attractive blond wearing those same dark glasses I was so mistaken about; open the cover of the cd booklet and you see her walking with a cane. On her new cd you see a gorgeous woman reclined in a sensual coil reminiscent of Richard Avedon’s famous shot of Natasha Kinski.
I have said in the past that Melody Gardot has the ability on certain songs to make your heart stop the same way Nina Simone could. Two good examples are “Love Me as a River Does”, and “Rain”. Other songs, like “If the Stars Were Mine”, rank with the most lyrical love songs. There is a depth and beauty in her music that eludes most singer-songwriters.
Her new cd was produced by a Brazilian named Heitor Pereira. It oozes with physical grace and sensuality. Check out this youtube video of “Mira”, the cut that begins the album. Her life has had tragedy and wonder; her music celebrates miracles and joy.