Heard the one about how a B&B owner in Wales got someone a record deal? Well, that’s the improbable story of Jodie Marie’s breakthrough. After a landlady overheard a guest discussing his son’s music industry role, she instructed her guest to check out the 20-year-old’s music. Impressed, the guest got in touch with his son, who happens to co-run Transgressive Management, back in London. Since then, her rise has been phenomenally fast, signing to Decca to relaunch the Verve label and achieving Radio 2 playlisting.
Now comes her debut album Mountain Echo, made with help from a few famous friends, producers Ed Harcourt and Bernard Butler amongst them. It’s a good partnership on paper; in particular the sometime Suede guitarist has excelled as a producer and/or collaborator working with artists such as Sons & Daughters and Fyfe Dangerfield and, of course, his production helped to catapult Duffy into the mainstream in 2008.
Odd, then, that the results are a little bit bland. Single Blank Canvas is a sweet-as-syrup introduction as soft synths rise and fall in a ballad that would work better in the middle of the running order. Numb sports rugged guitars but is only saved by strings sweeping in near the end. Further down the line, it’s crashing drums that give the otherwise stale Shadows Of Rain some more flourish.
Further on, What Would It Take is a song bereft of complex instrumentation that brings her lyrics to the forefront… revealing them as underwhelmingly simple. The things that Marie sings about are not exactly uncommon – relationship scenarios, essentially – and her writing is basic and offers little that’s new. Yes, she’s still very young, but whenever you hear a song like Greeney-Blue it’s hard not to think of contemporaries such as Laura Marling, who isn’t that much older, who have done this kind of thing before and in more effective ways.
This all adds up to a really frustrating listen and that feeling is further compounded when, amidst so much so-so material, there is evidence that she can write some sharp, to-the-point pop songs. I Got You is one of the most up-tempo and positive tracks on Mountain Echo and all the more striking for it; as Marie sings “No matter where you are when I come on home I’ve got you” there is a certain baroque bounce to it that is highly appealing. Like A Runaway, whilst fairly straightforward and no-frills in its approach, does its job perfectly well thanks to a neat country shuffle and comes replete with a memorable chorus.
It’s with this orchestral pop direction that Marie finally manages to find her feet. A whole album of songs of that ilk would have made for not only a better record but a far more interesting one. As it is, Mountain Echo is a debut that is unlikely to offend, but it’s unlikely to provoke repeated listens. Yet there are enough glimmers of hope, plus a couple of truly terrific standouts, that suggest she could grow into a formidable solo artist.