‘The Calm & The Storm'  by Dolly Mavies

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‘The Calm & The Storm'  by Dolly Mavies


As I often say, the Godiva Festival is an event which offers so much to the lover of local music and to the reviewer of the same. Multiple live performances, the chance to hear unreleased material & the chance to catch up with artists in person & get heads-up with their exciting plans.

As I said in my round-up of the 2023 event, there are so many great local musicians around currently that most of my time was spent simply trying to catch everyone on my "must see" list (not that I did). Encountering artists I'd not previously seen gets squeezed out under such circumstances, so I was delighted to see Dolly Mavies for the first time, so hear is the  third (after my reviews of the new Chasing Deer & Stylusboy releases) promised article from my general Godiva review.

I'll be frank: while I tend to berate myself for catching up on artists later than I feel I ought to (and kudos as ever to BBC Introducing for Coventry & Warwickshire who have long beaten me to her), to stand out as Dolly & her band did during a three day festival of continuous music does measure the impression made on me, so I'm glad to give a more detailed review, specifically of her most recent album (yes she's another local artist with the confidence to work within the format), ‘The Calm & The Storm'  which came out a couple of months ago (not thankfully my belatedness record for reviewing).

I say "she": if you saw my photos from Godiva, you'll have spotted five people in shot. In my ignorance (at the time) I was less than clear if I was watching a band or an individual plus band. I took the only decent way forward, contacted her & was advised that she is an individual artist, albeit one with a regular band for studio & most (but not all) live work: to name them there we are talking about Dolly Mavies (lead vocals & guitar), Adrian Banks (bass, guitar, piano & percussion), Christian Gillett (guitar), Belinda Webb (drums) and Ruth Draper (backing vocals).

To complete the credits section, Dolly writes the lyrics & she & Adrian the music. Both produced. Gary Stevenson was the recording engineer & Adrian both mixed & carried out some additional recording.

There are ten songs on the album: "The Calm", "I'm All Sugar", "Drawing Circles", "Forgive & Forget", "Silhouette", "Spaghetti", "Reflection", "Drown Me Out", "The Rain" and "Wait For Me".

Obviously I took the songs as I found them with no preconceptions (the best way), so it's most intriguing to learn of Dolly's stated influences. I'd not have assumed any punk input, but then I would be wrong as she cites both that and specifically Patti Smith. Just goes to show that punk is & should be an attitude & not reduced to the homogenous thrashing which all too soon it got diverted into. Now I begin to understand what grabbed me so instantly that day: my love for the unusual, the true, the innovative and the emotional connecting, all of which are what drew me to punk.

Of course there is more to her music than that: we have hear a prime example of what I think is one of the defining characteristics of the current golden age of local original music: rejection of the constraints & expectations of narrowly defined genres.

Molly also mentions The National, Daughter, rock, indie/alternative & folk..  Truth to tell, she wears her influences very lightly at times: this is highly individual music & speaks her own truth: another of those characteristics which I get drawn so much to. Personally, I heard a few other things in there: how much they are conscious, I do not know. One might be that the folk & rock elements mentioned tip a hat to the Laurel Canyon fusion of the late 1960s: I like the harmonies very much and that probably explains why Dolly prefers to play live with her band. The other would be a touch of the post punk sound, especially of bands such as Dolly Mixture (is that more than a coincidence?) But ultimately they all dissolve into something beyond hybrid which is purely Dolly Mavies.

Dolly describes the album overall as reflecting a "juxtaposition" between the elements in the title. I'd go farther though: I see it as a dichotomy with an obvious tension & friction which catalyses the songs. Yet not in an obvious way…. This is not an album of obvious dread & apprehension. Where the mood does swing towards the stressful, Dolly stays calm & emotionally detached enough to process the problem & deal with it. This is a person who when the storm breaks, will be found in its eye, surveying the carnage around her & reporting on it. You can't escape the serenity of her voice & perspective, even when at times she needs to get a little reproachful.

Yet another theme I (too) often get drawn into in my articles is my insistence that emotional truth does not equate in music into excessive vocal grandstanding: in fact I usually assume that the more showy the singing, the more shallow the sentiments. Guess what: Dolly keeps her emphasis on the honesty & the integrity of the song in her delivery & I do so value that.

The songs display delightful variations in actual arrangement, mood & sound without going too far: they are suitably diverse & eclectic while adhering to an overall unity of style. Taste again defines the instrumental parts of the songs & there is now showboating there either: parts add textures, details & accompaniments without an ounce of excess.

There is a unity of purpose across the set, but nevertheless, "Spaghetti" is one of the singles taken from it (there is a video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwyRBkPBeTI) as have been several others: most recently "Reflection" , "I'm All Sugar", "Silhouette" and "Forgive & Forget" which all goes to show that each song is so well crafted that it stands on its own enough to make an individual impact.

I am so pleased to have discovered her music & am sure this will not be the last you'll be hearing about Dolly Mavies in "Hot Music Live". As I got hooked hearing the songs live, I commend that approach to you too: the next opportunity of which I'm aware is at the Riverside Festival in Charlbury on July 30th.

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