Polly Gibbons – Is It Me…?
(Resonance Records RCD-1025. Review by Jeanie Barton)
Polly Gibbons is a young British lady with a shockingly mature soulful voice – perhaps only Joss Stone and Natalie Williams share her enigma. This, her second album for US label Resonance Records, charts her rise in the States. She has recently supported George Benson as well as Gladys Knight on tour, who is likely a vocal idol (they share a strikingly similar vibrato and tone.)
The band and arrangements match Polly’s output in magnitude; producer George Klabin has assembled a seven-piece horn section enhancing both her R&B and swing roots. The piano and most of the arrangements are shared by Ronnie Scott’s All Star James Pearson and Tamir Hendelman (an LA-based pianist who regularly accompanies Barbra Streisand among others.)
This album is a mixture of eclectic covers and originals, three compositions by James and Polly sit happily alongside very established songs; Midnight Prayer is enthused with gospel, Is It Me… gently swings and showcases James at the piano with a storming jazz-drenched solo, while Polly’s vocal brings to mind Al Jarreau in its playful/joyfulness. You Can’t Just… has the vibe of a ’70s film theme full of attitude, like Shaft, it is great fun. As is the opening track, Patti Austin’s Ability To Swing, which starts the album with a punch – a catchy skit with a heavy nod to It Don’t Mean A Thing – it too is saturated with soul, blues and gospel.
A track which stands apart for me is Wild Is The Wind, made famous by Nina Simone; Polly’s delivery is understated and the depth of her tone absorbing, she strips the final note of all her rich vibrato, which is very effective – I think she could perhaps employ that simplicity more often. The accompaniment is more skeletal than other numbers too, giving Graham Dechter’s guitar solo space to shine. He also comes to the fore on Dr Feelgood, which gets the blood pumping.
Basin St. Blues is a wondrously sassy track, one could imagine it choreographed in a production like Chicago. It showcases all the horns with passing solos; also, within the arrangement, the band toy with tempo and groove bouncing between half time and double time feels, as they do within the closing Ellington number I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart (Willie Murillo’s trumpet solo on the latter is pure fire).
Polly’s innate husky tone belies the capabilities of her upper register; the final bonus track Don’t Be On The Outside is a live record during which, she somehow pulls out a top F – a third higher than my trick shot! As a singer and songwriter myself, I have every admiration for this lady and where she is going – undoubtedly towards deserved, enduring fame.
Personnel: Polly Gibbons – vocals, Tamir Henderson, James Pearson – piano, Shedrick Mitchell – hammond organ, Graham Dechter – guitar, Kevin Axt – bass, Ray Brinker – drums, Willie Murillo, Vinny Dawson – trumpet, Bob McChesney, Andy Martin – trombone, Bob Shepherd, Brian Scanlon, Keith Bishop, Tom Peterson – reeds.