Sitting outside on a fresh, crisp, Melbourne night last week, I was immune to the trappings our winter brings. Well, perhaps for 45 minutes anyway. For a small fragment of time, I was transported to the delicious heartbeat of a Spanish summer; Cafe-del-Mar meets SBS-film-style. Melburnian singer Mietta Zaetta-Thomas' debut album, had landed in my hands and A Mad Distance is quite the opposite of its title. How this songstress, eloquently crafted such moving arrangements from otherwise traumatic material - her life, loves and other catastrophes is truly poignant.
12 tracks feature on the album and they are all epic song-stories, jammed into three-four minutes of composition. The seductive build-up, vulnerability and raw sentiment captured by these small prisms into her world is transformative. This is music at it's fragile finest, she could well be the eponymous hero of cultural music, resurrecting a stunning mix of flamenco, husky blues, hip-shaking Brazilian and luxurious jazz tunes.
Her performance at The Spotted Mallard on 31 July was a spectacular affair. The venue befitting for her 25 piece band - including 10 piece chamber orchestra (her sister and two cousins on strings), and Mietta herself - diminutive in size, but full of presence, energy and depth of emotion. A former ballroom studio, you could be forgiven for wanting to swan around, or should that be mallarding around (?) the room So You Think You Can Dance style. Sidenote; sometimes it's best to leave these romantic notions in dream-mode and enjoy the professionals.
The beautiful tango dancers, magnetising flamenco guitar melodies of Nathan Slater, and Mietta's entrance herself, "how do I get on stage?!" (it's what happens when a cosy venue gets jam-packed full of family, friends and Melbourne music aficionados) on the night were indulgent. When Mietta outstretched her arms and draped the audience in the lavishness of 'Gone', we were enveloped. It was a heartfelt performance from start to finish.
The EP offers that same powerful experience. When I interviewed her last month she explained her feelings played a significant role in the album, "people have lots of different ways to channel their emotions and it is a big one (writing) for me. I've always really identified with the songwriting in flamenco and Brazilian music." After her mother passed away, "I really put a stamp on my heritage," she embraced her mother's' Italian ancestry and 'Mimi' took to the music world with 'Mietta' style.
A Mad Distance could well be the score in a beautiful foreign film, tracks like 'Midnight and the Deep Blue Sea', 'Eye of the Storm' and 'A Mad Distance' all have this irresistible and hypnotic beat. The poised, serene control of 'Midnight and the Deep Blue Sea' married with finessed harmonies is magnetising. 'I walk the streets alone tonight, beneath the moon that shines bright ...', lure you into a thunderous orchestral build up, then crescendo. The storytelling in her songs is akin to a Tony Gatlif screenplay (her favourite director), they are fragments of memories captured in precious melodies. It's the backbone of any great tale, we ache for atonement.
If you aren't up and bellydancing when title track 'A Mad Distance' is on, by one or two minutes in, I'm sure you will be. Just shimmy in your seat even … but, if shaking your thing is reserved for special occasions only, then 'Why' and 'Eye of the Storm' offer a lighter pace, summery feel and lilting, haunting melody, respectively. The big, bold hits are 'Berimbau' and 'Gone', the former sung in Spanish and reminiscent of more traditional tunes, while the latter is deep, rich and velvety. The tension is slow, deliberate and considered with the string arrangements, perfectly crafted to draw out the raw emotion, "it pushes everything up to a higher place." As Mimi expressed to me when asked about the song lyrics, "you have to keep moving forward, if you look back it can be too hard to do that."
This EP is a treat - if you're in need of a European summer, block out a weekend - hire some Tony Gatlif movies, crank up A Mad Distance, throw together some sangria and perhaps, just perhaps you might find yourself tango-ing around and calling out 'Ola' to everyone you meet. The Melbourne songstress sojourn to Spain shines through this album, and living vicariously is 'todo un montón de diversión.'