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Songs In The Key Of Life: Jodi Shaw
The Pie-Love Sky
By Mark Kirby
(more articles from this author)
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Artist: Jodi Shaw
Title: the Pie-Love Sky
Genre: Singer-Songwriter
Label: Big Head Records
Download: "The Forger"
The Forger

The lyrical imagery of Jodi Shaw’s song “The Forger,” from her debut CD The Pie-Love Sky, recalls the haunted face of Gene Hackman in the classic film “The Conversation.” Both the movie and song deal with an obsessive man battling head and heart. “The Forger" was inspired by the life story of one William Ireland, a master literary forger. He produced a number of documents purporting to be in the handwriting of William Shakespeare and came out with two new “Shakespeare” plays, all of which proved to be fraudulent. The forger in the song, though, is a master with the paintbrush:

My hands are steady, my eyesight sharp as a razor/ The great Mona Lisa, and still no one can duplicate her/ Like I can, oh I am the man.

In both movies there is a master craftsman who takes pride in his work and, in a society that devalues simple working-class pride in a job well done, goes about it in a lonely, thankless way until they’re pushed over the edge by a conflict between professionalism and the human heart, much like the protagonist of the song:

And babe if you / Get on that train / My heart will never Beat again/ There’s so little truth / Left to bend / The truth is not my friend.

The simple chord changes are given a whimsical outlet by “virtual” synthesizer (which sounds like a disembodied calliope organ), kalimba (African thumb piano), live percussion loops and Jodi’s guitar, all of which frame and create the perfect atmosphere for her close-talking-in-your-ear voice.

Though the production is atmospheric (and grows on this listener with repeated plays) and puts her voice and lyrics front and center, the recording of this song doesn’t completely capture the magical realism she creates in her live shows.

Q. What do I mean by “magical realism”?

I mean that hearing this song live creates the same experience as when you’re reading a good book and the images and sounds of the story spring forth, vibrant and alive, from your own imagination. It’s very intimate, like dreaming while sleeping with someone during a mid-afternoon nap.

I use this song as an entry point to the world of Jodi Shaw. There are many beautiful babes who can sing and play guitar. But few, if any, have the depth, song writing skill, and mellifluous voice of Jodi Shaw. While other singer song-songwriters and anti-folkies solipsistically mine personal experience (emo geeks) or journalistically rant at the world from afar (slam poets, the vaguely Dylanesque protest singers), she takes characters or nuggets of the experiences of others and injects the “what if” question that empathetic, gifted writers in any form would ask.

For example, take the song “Cabrini Green.” Jodi says of this song: “This is one in a series of media inspired songs. I read an article in which a woman talked about life as on of the residents of Cabrini-Green, a notoriously dangerous neighborhood in Chicago. She was asked why she continues to live there, and she replied, ’Because it used to be so nice.’" Her song is told from the woman’s point of view and poetically depicts that which keeps people in places called home, no matter how hellish. The music is simple, a lilting, Celtic waltz played only on guitar (one of her best live moments). It captures the nostalgia and dreaminess people attach to place:

“Treasonous treasures these towers of steel/ Nothing so broken, nothing so real / The season’s keep turning . . . Hard to believe a mother’s dream/ The most beautiful thing You’ve ever seen / That’s why we stay in Cabrini Green.”

She is a young singer, but her song craft is of the old school. She sings about life, as real people live it.

While the heroine of “Cabrini Green” is in a state of denial, the woman in “The End,” another song that is perfectly bare bones in its production, is clear about her feelings about the dark side of intimacy: dissolution of self. Seemingly about the end of a relationship at first, this song is a tale rendered poetically with images and a slight narrative: it’s about a relationship - abusive or incredibly close - where the man is persisting to “go where nobody’s been,” forcing his way. Is it sex? Is it wanting some form of power? Maybe she’s closed off the best or worst of herself from this . . . lover, husband, or girlfriend. I assume it’s about a man, and I was never this guy. I hope. But enough about me. The lyrics and her voice lend emotional meaning that is beyond the words, the melody, and guitar chords. This song, like others on The Pie-Love Sky, goes where most writers fear to tread.

At the other end of production spectrum is the song “High.” Though strong and brilliant when played live and direct, on CD it benefits from the color of added instruments. The trip hop drum beat is the sound of isolation (thank you Portishead), and the piano and violin add visual elements that are perfectly blended to the music. The off-kilter arrangement and instrumentation, mixed with her disembodied vocals, create the sensation and pure beautiful poetry of getting high:

“I dreamed I had a horse it flew from the sky/ All the rosy colored curtains slid open wide/ No need to decide I don’t have to try/ I can just get by High.

And there’s more. Each of these songs offers the listener something to chew and that’s filling. And while the songs “Kristine’s Lullaby” and “Dumbo’s Feather” veer toward the light Irish jig style of bouncy folk music, even these have something to say that runs deeper than surface impressions.

Lovers of good music, a great voice and lyrics should be all over this. Jodi Shaw can be reached at , where you will find how to get the CD and when she’s comin’ to your town.

For more information and to contact the author, click on the author’s name at the top of the page.

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