Saint Bernadette is the patron saint of poverty, a visionary who saw possibilities and miracles where no one else did, refusing to be swayed by pessimism, cynicism and conventional wisdom.
Saint Bernadette’s lead vocalist Meredith DiMenna, along with her now ex-husband and ex-bandmate Keith Saunders, has created a little bit of Lourdes in her adopted hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut, building a recording studio, producing local concerts, sponsoring arts in the local community and putting out a series of five independent releases on their own label since 2007.
The brand-new The Nevers, produced by Danny Kadar [My Morning Jacket, Avett Brothers], is the group’s fifth release, following 2007’s debut, In the Ballroom, recorded in three days in Bridgeport’s abandoned Bijou Ballroom, featuring “anthems for ethical sluts, Daddy’s girls and hookers with hearts of gold. A pair of EP’s followed, I Wanna Tell You Something (“big hooks and twisted circus melodies, detailing a journey of longing through temptation, despair, whimsy, audacity and vulnerability”) and Word to the Lourdes (“an assault of rock-pop gems drawing comparisons to AC/DC”). Last year, there was a limited release of Cover Thy Neighbor, featuring cover versions of songs written by other local artists and personal friends, including a re-imagining of the Ten Commandments.
The Nevers is the sound of a marriage falling apart, the anger and betrayal mixed in with sadness and even hope, its recording a musical chronicle of DiMenna and Saunders’ break-up after 10 years together, the last three as man and wife as well as collaborators.
Producer Kadar explained its appeal: “This is the kind of album, when you’re going through these kinds of things, a friend hands it to you and says, ‘Listen to this.’ And nothing else will do.”
From the biblical fury of the Led Zeppelin-meets-Heart righteous anger of “In the Time of Moses,” the pounding AC/DC-style female empowerment of “Take It If It’s Yours” and the Stonesy blues of “Whatcha Prayin For” to lap steel virtuoso John Novellli’s weeping, squawking guitars which close out “Over the Line” and the first-hand accounts of domestic strife in the crashing garage-rock of “The Winding Road” and the raw confessional of “In the Next Go Round,” The Nevers has blood on its tracks, its outcome a testament to a relationship which couldn’t outlast its own passion.
“We cared for each other a great deal, and we were trying to fix it,” explains the fiery DiMenna, who takes blame for the choices she made. “And we also care a great deal about the music. The process of writing the album evolved along with our own issues. By the time it came to record, that was the end, but we were still technically together and part of the band. It all came down at once. These performances capture what was happening day by day.”
Indeed, in songs like “The Winding Road” and “In the Next Go Round,” where Saunders contributed some of the lyrics that his ex-wife sings, it’s almost as if we’re privy to the argument, each expressing their viewpoint with their respective instruments.
“It’s been difficult for me to figure out what to say about the album,” says Meredith, who cites Ella Fitzgerald and Dusty Springfield as her varieties, but has been compared to everyone female diva from Shirley Bassey, Billie Holiday, Nico and Peggy Lee, to Grace Slick, Ann Wilson, Grace Slick and PJ Harvey, not to mention Robert Plant, Jim Morrison and Greg Dulli. “The vocabulary of music was invented to help process these feelings about relationships. That’s why it’s so difficult to be in a marital partnership in a band… because you can’t hide. Things your partner might not know about they end up finding out.”
There’s another side to DiMenna, though, which comes across in songs like “Close Enough,” where she plays the sultry femme fatale chanteuse in a song reminiscent of the Cowboy Junkies’ quiet version of “Sweet Jane,” “I Get Lost,” a Bowie/Eno-esque tune where the jazz/R&B croon evokes her idol Ella, or “For the Record,” a self-described “saloon” song that channels not only Frank Sinatra, but Amy Winehouse and Adele, also created in a late-night jam session.
“That’s always been a part of me, that softer side,” she explains. “The one more interested in singing about love than anger. There are times when you’re really hot and can’t quiet down, and there are others where everything just cools off. And you think, ‘This heartbreak is the most beautiful thing that I could’ve experienced.”
Although her marriage was sacrificed in the process, The Nevers is the child of that relationship, chronicling not only the split-up, but everything that led up to the two meeting, spending a decade together and parting.
“The worst thing I’ve ever done brought about what I always wanted, and that’s where I am right now,” says DiMenna, citing her love of both romanticism and existentialism when she studied at Colby College. “There are times when I get so happy with the way things are turning out, and then I’m just plagued by dark feelings because of how they came about. This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this to anybody. And I feel guilty about that. Still chaos and order exist always and simultaneously. It’s not like I sacrificed a relationship for a work of art. I’m not the first one to make a wrong choice and I won’t be the last. I’m just glad that something this good came out of all that hurt.”
“There’s no where safe for a modern girl.” “In the Next Go Round”
“Love is true, love is difficult and so are relationships,” concludes Meredit. “They take a lot of work, but they’re still worth it.” The Nevers proves her point.