One of the fringe benefits of being in an eternally nerdy group like The Magic Numbers is that their lack of rock n' roll antics means their gelt is spent on something more rational than a Ferrari. In the case of the band, their bassist Michele Stodart co-founded with her brother Romeo and fellow sibling duo Angela and Sean Gannon their professional loot has been wisely invested in the building of a recording studio, a hideaway in which her début solo album Wide-Eyed Crossing was recorded.
Stodart's musical family ensured that she was reared on a kaleidoscopic listening diet, one that included the likes of Patsy Cline and Hank Williams, and at times their influence is writ large, especially on the desultory 'Take Your Loving Back' and 'O Heart of Mine'. If neither has the older star's toothsome panache, they do both share a sense of vulnerability which eventually brought their inspirations low; just as fascinating is the singer's extension of the chassis over a blues syntax, her duet with Villagers much feted Conor O' Brien on 'Invitation To The Blues' melding the two archaic genres together with strident aplomb.
As you may have guessed, this is life through the kind of personal, painful lens which we no longer allow celebrities to have without usually insisting they share every visceral detail of it; that Wide Eyed Crossing is so intimate speaks volumes for an artist who also played every note of the record. At its most affecting - on the frankly lovely and Magic Numbers-esque 'My Baby, My Sweet' - there is a feeling of reading someone else's love letters, at once uncomfortably voyeuristic but also tinged with bystander romance.
There's no doubt, however, that this cathartic journey is as bleak as it is uplifting, despite the obviously therapeutic effects for the songwriter. At times, it's also just the right side of maudlin, as on 'You've Got A Hold of My Heart' and 'List of Don'ts', but Stodart's cracked, tar paper delivery usually carries the day, and it's telling that the only real dud here - the schmaltzy closer 'In Between' - is a throwaway instrumental.
It's fair to say that the trial-by-album formula is a well-trodden road for the solo artist, a journey that many have taken with the odds 50/50 on it ending in either purgatory or nirvana. To her credit, Wide-Eyed Crossing's honesty and lack of polish only add to its charm; a soul purging that you sense Michele Stodart needed anyway, regardless of whether anyone else was meant to hear it. It's enough to say that you should.
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