ELEANOR DATTANI – Darkness Into Light (Naplew Productions)

Darkness Into LightA Birmingham singer-songwriter, pianist and music teacher, Darkness Into Light is Eleanor’s second album, the first since her debut (as Eleanor Williams) ten years ago and, recorded in her living room, was, as she says in the notes, written to help her recover from severe post-natal depression and post-natal psychosis. She describes it as documenting her “journey from mental illness to mental health, from deep sadness to overwhelming joy and gratitude, from intense darkness to light”. It’s one that should be heard, not just because of the subject matter and how it can help those who have experienced or are experiencing the same problems, but because it’s also bloody good.

It’s short, with seven of the twelve songs under two minutes, but the quality outstrips the width. Sat at the piano, she opens with ‘Growing Up To Late’ liltingly singing “My heart is full of anger/My head is full of hate/My soul is full of anguish” on a number about seeking recovery (“I’ve been to the bottom/And now I have to wait/For courage to find me”) that has a touch of old music hall ballads about it. That retro sensibility runs throughout and in places I’m reminded of Louise Jordan, Katy Bennett and, at times even Kate Bush, especially on second track, the brief ‘I’m Sorry’ (“I’m sorry I didn’t look after myself /I’m sorry I made the wrong call/I’m sorry my ego made us both suffer”) where she vows “I’m going to grow love in my heart…For you “Thank you for showing me where I went wrong”.

The piano takes on slightly deeper notes with the metaphorical jaunty swayalong ‘My Bird’ (“My bird has not had space to grow/To laugh and to play and to sing/My bird has been frightened and scared/For I’ve been focusing on the wrong things”) as the clouds of depression part and she sings “now I can see the sun/Catch a glimpse of the rays in the sky/I know what I have to do now/To make sure that my bird learns to fly”.

Clocking just 55 seconds ‘You Don’t Understand’ addresses the problem of those whom, with the best intentions, offer answers without understanding the nature of the question as she says “What was right for you/Might not be right for me… Please don’t try to fix me/Don’t treat me like a fool/The problems I encountered/Needed completely different tools”. The simple melody of ‘Lost Time’ and then the bouncy 52-second galumph of ‘Easy To Love’ then return attention to those who have suffered around her, though here the focus seems to be her marriage, the former with another promise to make things better and “make life right for you” and the realisation that “Every moment is precious”, and the latter an observation that “It’s easy to love when everything’s bright” set against the question “Can you still sing when despair is so near?

The again brief ‘I’ve Learnt This Lesson Before’ is a more ruminative interlude that touches on past incidence of “Pretending that I’m someone else/So terrified and full of fear/So deeply insecure”, self-examination continuing with the resolve of the arms-linked sway of ‘I Can Change The End Of This Song’, a determination not to look back into the abyss but to “choose life/To battle the strife/To put on my armour and fight the good fight” and search out shoots of green and, continuing the imagery, “turn over a brand new leaf” and “grow t’ward the light”.

At just over three minutes, with a church-like piano air and sung with soft intimacy, ‘Buried In My Heart’ is the longest track and again a song about finding the inner strength within to rise out of the black hole and bury the anger and pain deep in the ground.

She returns to a lighter vocal and melodic frame with ‘The Spaces Between’, a song about being caught between, as she puts it, the open sky and the raging sea, “between who I am/And who I want to be”, hovering between despair of feeling helpless in the grip of panic and “Punishing myself/To prove to others I was brave” and the realisation of her child’s needs and that “all I should have cared about/Was keeping you safe”.

It ends with catharsis and resolution as, on the rolling piano pattern of ‘Time To Let Go’, she sings how it’s time to “let peace come to me” and accepting the wisdom that “I can’t change what’s past/But I can change what can be/And live happily with you, your father and me”, finally closing with the moving epiphany of ‘Surrounded By Love’, the piano striking a salvational anthemic note as she sings “I’ve not been raising you/You’ve been raising me/Into the mother/I didn’t know I could be”, an ode to unconditional love and the reassurance that “after the storm/There came a rainbow”, and that to be kind to others we first have to be kind to ourselves, to love others, we must first love ourselves and to believe that “even when life/Feels as cold as the night/Fear not for the stars/Will soon be in sight”.

The musical brightness belying the emotional struggles that songs recount, Darkness Into Light is both a courageous album in the exposure of the nerve endings and an uplifting one that not only charts a personal recovery but offers inspiration to others who may be in the same place. Given the nature of the arrangements and the performance, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine this as a one-woman staged musical. In her notes Dattani concludes “For those suffering out there, I want you to know that you will get better, your child loves you, nothing is irredeemable, and what lies for you at the end of this tunnel (which you don’t ever believe will end) is more beautiful than you can ever imagine in your wildest dreams. Don’t give up. You and your child are connected by a love greater than you know and one day you will feel it in every part of your being.” Take it to your heart.

Note: 40% of all proceeds will be given the charity Acacia (Pre and postnatal depression support services) and Action for Postpartum Psychosis.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.naplewmusic.co.uk/album/darkness-into-light

‘I’ve Learnt This Lesson Before’ – official video:

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