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Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man 

Out of Season

Wednesday, Oct 22 2003
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British chanteuse Beth Gibbons once provided the emotional anchor for Portishead's haunting trip-hop, entwining her mournful voice with the cinematic soundscapes constructed by Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley. Ditching turntable scratches, swooping theremin, and programmed beats for decidedly organic accompaniment, Gibbons and collaborator "Rustin Man" (aka Paul Webb, bassist for defunct new wavers-turned-experimentalists Talk Talk) mix jazz, folk, and R&B influences on Out of Season while still leaning toward the torch singer's tragic side.

Opening with a full minute of Eno-esque ambient sound, "Mysteries" blossoms into a sparse symphony of acoustic guitar and choir that backs Gibbons as she delivers a weary, achingly beautiful vocal. "Tom the Model" initially dives headlong into Portishead territory courtesy of swelling Hammond B-3 chords and reverb-heavy guitar, but suddenly switches to a horn-driven, string-drenched Memphis soul groove that wouldn't sound out of place on a classic Al Green album.

Out of Season revels in its diverse palette, running the gamut from the lush Bacharach-meets-Axelrod arrangement on "Romance" (with the wistful Gibbons working her drawling Lady Day impersonation to the hilt) to the stark approach used on the folky rumination "Resolve" to the forlorn piano balladry of "Show," a not-so-distant acoustic cousin to "Roads" from Portishead's '94 debut. The psychedelic chamber orchestrations (think jazzy Pink Floyd, post-Syd but pre-Dark Side of the Moon) heard on "Spider Monkey" and the epic "Funny Time of Year" also hew closely to the Portishead template -- not so surprising, considering Utley and former members of the group's live band helped out on these recordings -- but the balance of the album still marks a significant departure for Gibbons. The relentless melancholy of the vocalist's songs might be a bit much for some, but the singer pulls off her heartbroken pathos where most would degenerate into woebegone caricature.

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Dave Pehling

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