Polly Gibbons – Many Faces of Love
(Resonance Records RCD 1022. CD review by Peter Jones)
There’s a long and honourable tradition of British female singers, from Lulu and Dusty to Beverly Knight, Ruby Turner and Joss Stone, who sound as if they spent their early lives testifyin’ in some Memphis Baptist church. Polly Gibbons is the latest in this line, and there are few clues in these recordings to her roots among Suffolk farming folk. The voice is rough-edged, full of soul, powered by a pair of mighty lungs apparently cast from rusty iron. Only the long ‘a’ sound in words like ‘chance’ and ‘answer’ betray an upbringing in southern England.
Generically, the tunes occupy a sort of no-man’s land between soul, R&B and jazz. Running throughout the album – remarkably, her debut collection – is the signature interplay between Polly’s voice and Christian Howes’s violin. Howes is a remarkably simpatico player, filling the spaces between vocal lines with great empathy. His command of different styles matches that of Gibbons herself. Al Jarreau’s regretful Not Like This, for example, required Howes to overdub several string parts, and it’s to the credit of arranger and pianist Tamir Hendelman that the resulting harmonies are so sweet and rich. Polly is equally at home belting out R&B tunes like the opener, Please Send Me Someone To Love, on which Howes demonstrates that he can also rock out. City Lights is a bluesy shuffle by Dr John, which morphs into swing, giving Howes yet another chance to show his class, followed by a classy jazz-blues solo from guitarist Anthony Wilson.
After a few tracks, it becomes clear that Polly Gibbons can sing pretty much anything. On another Jarreau number, So Good, she gives Aretha Franklin a run for her money, adding an effortless scat solo for good measure; on the terrific dark ballad After Hours, she moves into Sarah Vaughan territory. Then it’s back to the soulful blues with Buddy Johnson’s Since I Fell for You.
To call this album slick and professional hardly seems like a criticism. It’s just that there’s such a gloss to the recordings that you wonder where Polly Gibbons goes from here – so good has she become, and only just into her thirties. The answer is perhaps that she can gradually throw off her influences and begin to sound like herself. It would be fascinating to hear her performing original material written specifically for her.
The CD is accompanied by a DVD featuring some behind-the-scenes footage filmed in the studio, plus live takes of five of the album tracks, along with versions of Almost Like Being in Love, Muddy Water and Miss Celie’s Blues. There is no information about where these were recorded, but they were perhaps taken from different nights, since they feature both veteran American pianist Roger Kellaway (who wrote the track I Have the Feeling I’ve Been Here Before) and Ronnie Scott’s in-house keyboard maestro James Pearson.
Polly Gibbons’ next scheduled appearance is in a tribute to Ray Charles on April 23rd at St James Studio