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Feted as a promising English jazz singer for her Ian Shaw-produced debut and its major label follow-up Bittersweet And Blue, it's a hop, skip and long jump to reach the folk pop of Between Me And The Wardrobe. For one thing, all eleven songs on Gwyneth Herbert's new record are self-penned, where previously she was intent on working as an interpreter of others' work. As a result, stories are very much to the fore, in fact many of these songs are compacted narrative jewels. Herbert conjures and then explores characters and situations that are sketched with fine strokes comprised as much of vocal intonation as adjectives and nouns.
Opening song, "Lay You Down", is so clear-voiced and cleanly arranged it's like a breath of cool mountain air; percussive brushes accompanied by lithe bass. 'Whisper Low' delights in the hiss and sigh of Herbert's plosive vowels etched lightly with acoustic guitar and piano. Beginning as gently affecting, it builds to a climax of 'don't knows' before ending with a twinkle.
'The Woman Meets The Wiseman' ventures into playful territories, all crash and roar, it's over much too quickly at just a hair's breadth over two minutes. 'In The Meantime' takes my vote for the album's most special song. It's almost breathtakingly intimate: just Herbert's closely-recorded voice, double bass and a single struck note ringing in the near silence.
The music is oak-like, rich and weathered. It makes me think of walking through woodland, all shadows and sudden shafts of warming sunlight. Brit jazz man Seb Rochford, best known as the strikingly hirsute drummer for Polar Bear, Fulborn Taversham and Acoustic Ladyland, is responsible for a production that's stripped-down, but full of unexpected and highly rewarding details. Recommended. --Colin Buttimer
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