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Gwyneth Herbert - Bittersweet and Blue


Review: Jack Foley

GWYNETH Herbert has rapidly become one of the most talked about voices on the jazz circuit, thanks to her smooth, sultry vocal style, and her ability to really inhabit the songs that she sings.

From simple beginnings at Bar Sia, on Wimbledon Broadway, word quickly spread about her talent, so that when she door-stepped Peter Wallis, co-runner of the famed jazz joint Soho Pizza Express, and forced him to listen to her demo CD in his car, he became immediately smitten.

Wallis didn't merely want Herbert to appear live at his jazz joint, he wanted to create a CD, and, in October 2003, the duo released First Songs, which included Herbert/Rutter originals mingled with covers of songs by Bacharach and David (Trains & Boats & Planes) and the Gershwin’s (I Was Doin’ Alright), among other things.

The CD became an instant smash among the jazz fraternity, and catapulted Herbert into the limelight she seemed born to inhabit.

Now, however, she releases an album of solo work, and the effect is no-less scorching.

Recorded over the Summer, in west London, it also takes in many cover versions - but not all from the jazz arena.

Hence, a wider listening base can truly get to hear this major talent as she applies her voice to contemporary tracks from the likes of Crowded House and Portishead, as well as dusky favourites such as Fever, which is given a slightly funkier makeover.

The result is an album that quietly intoxicates, catching you off-guard with some of its selections, but always surprising you with the richness of the vocals, and the fresh outlook on several tracks.

Crowded Houses' Into Temptation, for instance, has long been a personal favourite of mine when Neil Finn sings it - but is given a fresh impetus by Herbert.

As is Portishead's Glory Box, which comes stripped of the gritty beats that made it stand out first time around.

Here, Herbert's voice is given centre stage and she gets to stretch it quite beautifully, so that the track seems even more painful and heartfelt than before (if that were possible).

Other highlights include the raspy, wee-hours textures of Tom Waits’ early Seventies classic, The Heart Of Saturday Night, which feels vividly atmospheric, and a nicely up-tempo rendition of A Little Less, with its Jackson 5-ish melody (and which should have Joss Stone looking over her shoulder).

Herbert is sure to be one of the star attractions of the London Jazz Festival, and a major player on the jazz circuit for years to come.

Bittersweet and Blue offers the opportunity to discover the delights she has to offer at an early stage - and really ought not to be passed over.

For any fans of jazz, great voices, Norah Jones style huskiness, or all of the above, it rates among the autumn's must-have collections.

The Guardian wasn't wrong when it hailed this 22-year-old sensation as 'a remarkably gifted talent'.

Click here to find out more about Gwyneth Herbert!

Track listing:
1. Fever
2. (Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night
3. The Very Thought Of You
4. It's Alright With Me
5. Bittersweet and Blue
6. Glory Box
7. Every Time We Say Goodbye
8. Almost Like Being In Love
9. At Seventeen
10. Into Temptation
11. A Little Less
12. Fallen
13. Only Love Can Break Your Heart

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