I’ve written before that Sydney artist Jo Meares has a voice that evokes a life lived to the fullest – tired, weary and battling the endless vicissitudes of life with a stoicism and resolve. And he expresses this in a milieu of impossible beauty and clarity of thought that sends shivers down your spine. Subtle rolling melodies amidst an environment of shifting sounds, noises and aural shadows form a veritable architecture of sound that moves around Meares’s deep, sonorous vocals.
Whereas his style and tone reflected a meeting of Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave in a dingy alleyway, armed with a jaundiced eye, irreverent wit and a bottle of whiskey, Meares has lassoed in an even more lush and exotic air, evoking the bleary-eyed ghost of Serge Gainsbourg, in his latest release.
‘La Baie de Diament’ is a reworking of an earlier album, ‘Back To The World’ in which Meares has taken four tracks and had vocals added in French. A daring thing to do and to my ears, Meares has triumphed.
Over a decade ago, while touring France with French pianist Lisa Barel, Jo Meares had the idea of singing his songs in the language of that country after she suggested that his voice would sound great singing in French. A handful of his songs were translated and he started to sing one, very simple song, live at gigs in France.
From that initial foray into recasting his evocative and atmospheric songs in a foreign language, Meares began to think about a wider project along the same lines.
I have played a lot in France over the last decade and was always astonished audiences enjoyed the shows when they didn’t understand a word. I always thought it would be terrific to actually sing my songs, in French, to a French audience.
The result is magnificent. Slow burning, exotic and opulent: the songs bring to mind an air of excess and regret, indulgence and penitence and that languid air of Gainsbourgian richness with a dubious morality and a wicked glint in the eye.
Of course when the source material is so brilliant, the delivery in French adds a gilded cloak and a sensual, exotic luminescence.
The title track with its half whispered delivery, reverberated guitars and tinkling guitars gliding over wailing strings sets the tone. Languid, sensual, rich and enigmatic: the singer cuts a lonely figure draped over a shotgun glass in the corner of some sleazy den of iniquity. This is Tindersticks fronted by Gainsbourg.
With its splashing synth spine and backing chorus, Lone Gun breathes a decedent carnival air that slams into life after a late and indulgent night. ‘La Cadavre Dans La Chambre’ with its morbid title has a bar room roll and air of menace. Meares voice is again whispered and threatening, wry and observational with the strings providing a menacing and haunting veil.
The EP ends with ‘Un Vieux Chien et un Fusil’ – a visceral farewell, whispering with a chilling beat and a velvet midnight colour. A wailing harmonica from a spaghetti western seeps in and out of the corners. Ten minutes of taught, stretching strings and dancing piano notes over a whiskey-soaked regret. It is heart achingly beautiful.
‘La Baie de Diament’ is a glorious indulgence that transports you to a Jean-Pierre Melville world with Alain Delon in his trench coat and a sound track from a supergroup fronted by Gainsbourg and Nick Cave. In invoking these images, Meares channels songs written by Leonard Cohen and played by Tindersticks. It’s a bacchanalian orgy of indulgence and pain that is ever so good.
You can get the EP from the link below: