It takes Melody Gardot almost a minute and a half to appear on “Don’t Misunderstand,” the introduction to her provocative new album. Upon arrival, her voice ascends from a low moan amidst jabs of strings, the tentative thump of acoustic bass, and subdued, portentous percussion—a telling emergence, given how her 2012 masterpiece The Absence ended with 14-plus minutes of silence and sound collage. She returns with something to say. Currency of Man employs still more sound collages while deploying horns and strings in spare, small jazz combo atmospheres to frame Gardot’s seductive vocals that speak of societal ills in evocative, poetic terms. The twin scourges of homelessness and poverty fuel the gospel spirit of “It Gonna Come”; a prostitute’s dead-end future is lamented in the percolating funk of “She Don’t Know”; in “Preacherman,” the scourge of racial intolerance—feelings inspired by the murder of Emmett Till—is articulated in searing lyrics underscored by angry outbursts of sax and howling electric guitars. Yes, there are lighter moments (the lovely ballad “Morning Sun,” for one), but the topical songs’ compelling messages linger long in memory and mark yet another triumph for this most unusual, unabashedly daring artist.