Album | Josienne Clarke – Parenthesis, I

Hot on the heels of last year’s Onliness, which saw Josienne Clarke recording, reworking and reclaiming a collection of her older songs, comes Parenthesis, I. Thirteen songs about finding who you are through the prism of where you came from and where you’re heading towards. Clarke always says that she only does sad songs, and there’s a certain truth in that, but many of these songs are laced with hope.

Currently living on an island in the West of Scotland, many of these recordings are shaped by living on the coast, and there’s watery images peppered amongst her lyrics. Talking of which, this is the sound of an artist who is really finding her feet and her confidence. She’s a tremendous songwriter, and the clarification of her voice makes you really lean in and listen to what she’s saying. You can’t help but become enraptured by the hypnotic qualities to songs like ‘Fear of Falling’, ‘The Calm’ or the title track itself. The former being totally shaped by the place where she resides now. Clarke has spoken of walking by the harbour everyday, taking a deep breath of sea air and reminding herself to leave the past where it belongs”.

To those familiar with Clarke’s previous solo work, they may be surprised by the jazzier ‘Looking Glass’ or the answer ballad ‘Dead Woman’s Bones’, where Clarke retells the traditional “The Two Sisters” from the point of view of the bones of the woman killed and turned into an instrument.

“Bright red…the blood I have bled for you” – so begins ‘Forbearing’, her most nakedly personal song. It’s a hard and beautiful listen, coming from where she hit rock bottom, when she suffered a series of traumatic events, leaving her to wonder what the point of her existence was. As Clarke said herself, “being at your lowest ebb…you either give up or you fundamentally change the way you think about yourself, your life and the space you afford yourself in it”.

This talk about how the space your life fills also crops up in ‘Double-Edged Sword’ – “My ability to stay alive is my only power”. As Clarke notes, “refusing to surrender is not the same as fighting” This is one of several songs too where her band of Matt Robinson, Dave Hamblett and Alec Bowman-Clarke come to the fore. This is also a great example of how many of these songs may be framed in darkness, but there’s enough light allowed in to let them breathe and develop. This makes for an easier listen than it could be, and also rewards repeated listening Where songs like ‘FireCracker’ and ‘Do You Know How’ shed layers, allowing the listener to hear something new each time.

After a few years of refinding her feet and herself, we find ourselves listening to the sprawling and ambitious title track, which certainly points the way towards greater horizons. As if this is an adventure that is just beginning, and that Clarke’s most exciting and vital songs are yet to be recorded. It’s a song about recovery and not allowing yourself to be imprisoned by whatever’s happened in your past. “Darkness is only an absence of light in its space”. It’s a song that lyrically could have theses writing about it.

As one of the best songwriters working in this country today, it’s very fitting that Parenthesis, I ends with a song about songwriting itself. About the process of setting words to a page, of finding a melody to fit and growing something from the ground. ‘Magic Somehow’ is the most hopeful song on the record, and shows that Clarke is ready to tackle the world, one sad song at a time. Long may this continue, for the music world is a thousand times better for someone so talented sharing what she can do with us.