It should see her career continue on its recent upward trajectory.
John Eyles 2009-07-08
On her fourth album, Gwyneth Herbert builds on the strengths that made her last release, Between Me And The Wardrobe, a success. Focussing on her folk-jazz vocal style and on her own compositions rather than cover versions, All The Ghosts should see her career continue on its recent upward trajectory.
Herbert's songs are rightly starting to draw comparisons with those of 60s Ray Davies and Paul McCartney. She has a fine sense of melody and her latest songs tell stories that equal ''Terry meets Julie, Waterloo station, every Friday night'' or ''Wednesday morning at five o'clock as the day begins''.
The songs create a cast of inner-city archetypes, each with an intriguing tale to tell. Many of the protagonists are society's losers or victims. Unlike Davies or McCartney, Herbert unfailingly sees the world from a woman's point of view. It is no coincidence that four of the track titles contain women's names.
Her voice and phrasing are often reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, noticeably on Nataliya. The elasticity of her voice perfectly conveys the songs' emotions and softens their occasional bleakness. Men are either objects of desire, as on My Narrow Man, or contempt, as on Put Your Mouth Where Your Money Is.
The accompaniment from pianist Steve Holness, bassist Sam Burgess, percussionist Dave Price and guitarist Al Cherry is subtly understated, complementing the voice well. Rarely in the limelight, the music impresses when it is featured. Cherry's acoustic guitar is the highlight of My Mini and Me, notably the slide guitar coda.
Previously available online in 2008 as a download-only album entitled Ten Lives, this expanded and retitled version is a coherent and compelling song suite. One of the added tracks comes as a surprise after the nine Herbert originals. Almost as an afterthought, the album closes with a raw version of Bowie's Rock 'n' Roll Suicide.
It seems an odd finale given Herbert's age. She was born years after Ziggy Stardust gave his last performance. Nonetheless, as on the original Bowie release, it brings this impressive album to a suitably emotional and rousing conclusion.