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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 79 - 03/18/03

Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man
Out Of Season
Go Beat

You know how sometimes a record stops you dead in your tracks? How sometimes it grabs you by the lapels and whispers beautifully in your ear? How it arrives so stylistically and emotionally complete that you want to press it on friends/lovers/anyone who'll listen? That's Out Of Season.

On extended sabbatical from Portishead, singer Beth Gibbons has teamed up with ex-Talk Talk man Paul Webb, aka Rustin Man, to create this bucolic masterpiece, and her voice effortlessly inhabits these 10 songs as if they've always existed, as if she's acting out some album of updated standards. Throughout, she's framed in a perfect setting, with spare, textured arrangements of soft double bass, Hammond organ, strings and horns, and a smattering of percussion. Some records some up a time perfectly, really nail the zeitgeist - her previous incarnation, for one - while some, like this one, dare to sit outside fashion, temporally askew. Yet it seems trite to praise Out Of Season merely for not being "now" - indeed, its production and clarity are thoroughly modern. "Timeless" is an over-used adjective - here it is the only fair description.

It starts with "Mysteries", a scene-setting opener. Acoustic atmospherics, ghostly vocals, heart-stopping chord change: songs that sound different, new, and yet unerringly right are rare on albums nowadays - this one's got ten. The relative briskness of "Tom The Model" is next, replete with rousing horns, sky-scraping chorus, and even a full snare drum.

Elsewhere, on "Romance", "Sand River", and especially on the appropriately titled "Drake", the sound echoes those moments in British music where acoustic jazz meets pastoral folk. Specifically, it recalls such high points as Van Morrison's Astral Weeks and Nick Drake's Bryter Later, though, crucially, is never beholden to them. "Funny Time Of Year" brews up a quiet storm, incorporating the noirish guitar of Adrian Utley (also on loan from Portishead) into the mix. The music-box outro of "Spider Monkey" is a delight, epitomising the album's seductive eeriness.

Throughout, Beth Gibbons mirrors these changes in moods expertly. Our familiarity with her voice, and the way she can switch styles/roles at will without once losing our emotional engagement, is our way in to the album. A masterful stylist, she's utterly compelling. Always in control, but always capable of the unexpected, here she stakes her claim once again of being this country's most enigmatic, most involving, and - faint praise though this is - probably best singer.

Out Of Season is bewitching. Make sure you fall under its spell.

Copyright © 2003 James Caig e-mail address

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