Gwyneth's latest smorgasbord of musical musings, ‘All The Ghosts', takes her music further down her own idiosyncratic path. It carries ten terrific songs, which speak to you directly, without forethought for genre or category. In their melodic immediacy and observational characterisation, you might hear the Lennon-McCartney of ‘Sgt Pepper', or the Ray Davies of ‘Lola', rather than any jazz stereotype.
The songs are populated by a living, breathing cast of beaten-down dreamers, jaded city-dwellers, and women in a quandary. There is a beautiful prostitute with a split lip, pining to be free to return to mother Russia. There is also a wicked, myth-enshrouded temptress, luring in young men with drink and drugs. And there is a Mini, the same age as the singer, as human and ‘real' in its wheezing everyday tasks as any of the other folk. These, simply, are songs about people, about life, as the singer has precociously learnt to understand them at her tender age.
Recorded in a live studio environment at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios, near Bath, Gwyneth and her faithful and accomplished quartet spent only two days laying the songs down. "It's a beautiful place, in the middle of nowhere - no distractions, amazing food, and lots of red wine. We wanted to revisit the whole concept of recording live. It was pretty much all done that way, everyone in one room, with basic separation, and no overdubs."
Says Gwyneth, "Like on ‘Wardrobe', you'll hear finger-tapping noises, or somebody drop a drumstick halfway through. There's a couple of weird pitching things with my voice, but I didn't want to sacrifice the vibe of the whole thing, for some idea of perfection. Musically, too, there's a lot more clunks and clatters. It's more percussive and driving."
‘All The Ghosts' is very much an ensemble piece, and sees Herbert's current combo - Al Cherry (gtr), Sam Burgess (bass), Steve Holness (piano and keys - "in his case, Bob really is your uncle!") and Dave Price (percussion) - hitting upon some inventive and often strange new sounds. Price, in particular, has amassed an armoury of oddball rhythm instruments, which include a cajon, or a "stool drum". He also bangs a gong on a couple of tracks. All the strange boings and crashes sometimes recall Tom Waits.
Gwyneth now feels embroiled in the arts of songcraft, from the wry portraiture of mid-'60s beat-poppers, to the arcane traditions of folk and blues. The songs present a lurid assortment of outsider characters, most of them women.
"Some of them are literal women, whom I've really met," she reveals, "and I guess they are all outsiders, but they're not necessarily black and white. With Lorelei, she's a very naughty woman, but I'd like to think you feel slightly enhanted by what she does, rather than completely rejecting her. Nataliya wants to go home, but that's Russia, and there's no hope of doing that, so there aren't many options for her. And Jane is a frantic mother confused by everything - you can't judge her for that". Gwyneth Herbert's songs will enchant anyone who gets to hear them.