Underestimate Josienne Clarke at your peril. On her first solo album since dissolving a decade-long partnership with guitarist Ben Walker, she might initially pass for a textbook example of a polite, old-school British folkie. Her singing is pretty and precise, always under control; her original songs are literate and graceful, with no rough edges.
But there’s enough raw angst on the spellbinding In All Weather to fuel a dozen tormented grunge bands. Stripping away the more ornate chamber-folk embellishments of her work with Walker, Clarke issues blunt, albeit still lovely, declarations of anger and self-reliance, calling out disappointing lovers and friends in no uncertain terms. “I’m not sorry for going out the door and never coming back,” she murmurs gently to strains of shimmering guitar and piano in “The Drawing of the Line,” sounding, as she often does, like a less-mournful descendant of Sandy Denny.
Crafting vignettes of romantic strife with a keen eye for detail, Clarke has little interest in euphemism or understatement. She laments the challenge of “trying to convey something, desperately” on the lilting “Season and Time,” concluding calmly, “I’m pretty sure you never understood a word I said.” While not claiming to be perfect herself, she admits, “I worry that I loved you, but I never let you know,” on “Walls and Hallways.” She’s not afraid to point a finger, exclaiming gently, “All my good deeds are dust on your desk,” in the soothing “Host” and tartly dismissing unreliable “Fair Weather Friends” with a swirling display of spooky voices.
Clarke crafts the perfect put-down on “If I Didn’t Mind,” dissecting an adversary with the kind of thrilling disdain the wicked young Dylan would admire. Supported by jittery electric guitar, one of the few times In All Weather displays any musical aggression, she sighs, “You’ve got your problems / But I’m the one who needs to change,” adding, “You use silence like others use a knife,” among a devastating litany of grievances. By the time Clarke grimly observes, “I’ve never known frustration like this in my life,” it’s obvious her emancipation is overdue.
The album closes softly with “Onliness,” turning the page on the period of distress she chronicles so eloquently. “I’m OK / And I’ll live to see another day / And someday I won’t even think about it / Anymore,” Clarke sings with a quiet resolve that makes it easy to believe her.
The clenched-fist score-settling and tentative new beginnings of this unassuming gem aren’t the only things going on in Clarke’s creative life lately. Earlier this year, PicaPica, the band she fronts along with fellow vocalist Samantha Whates, released its sparkling debut album, spotlighting her surprisingly playful, poppier side. In All Weather feels like an act of personal and professional liberation that could open up other doors for Josienne Clarke as well. It’ll be exciting to see where she goes next.