After this 4-star review in The Guardian, I think from now on I will call myself “Blossoming Herbert.” It makes me sound like an adolescent cherry tree. Which I like.
“Since Gwyneth Herbert’s Aldeburgh-commissioned song-cycle The Sea Cabinet takes Suffolk’s coastline as its theme, Wilton’s Music Hall made an atmospheric location for the album launch. The old vaudeville theatre’s faded paint and bare brickwork projected all the battered ruggedness of a seafront building blasted by storms. Herbert’s blossoming career after she escaped her unwanted mid-noughties image as a jazz diva has embraced idiosyncratically incisive songwriting and scores for soundtracks and theatre. The Sea Cabinet, however, finds her in assured charge of an even broader palette.
Alongside her regular trio, Herbert’s accomplices were Harry Bird and Christophe Capewell from folk band the Rubber Wellies and singer-songwriter Fiona Bevan. The band delivered a varied opening set of Celtic and Basque jigs and ballads, and Bevan took us on startling odysseys that suggested Erykah Badu, Joanna Newsom and Kate Bush spine-tinglingly joined.
Herbert opened the main event with a quiet piano motif introducing the haunting Sea Theme (resonantly harmonised between her and Bevan). Narrator Heidi James then introduced the central story of a woman who daily walks alone on a beach, collecting and meticulously cataloguing washed-up objects – each of which has its own song. Some were chanson-like, some were fierce sea shanties on the ruthlessness of old-time recruitment (The King’s Shilling), and others were typically sharp Herbert sketches of emotional lives at crossroads (“You took every drip, every drop of my energy, you took every tick every tock of my time”).
Herbert’s jazz-savvy trio (guitarist Al Cherry, bassist Sam Burgess and drummer Dave Price) mimicked beleagured boats or high winds with deep bowed-bass slurs or whistling bottleneck sounds; the Rubber Wellies added fiddles, reeds, accordion and melodica. But Herbert’s imaginative narrative, and her casually commanding voice – whether softly nuanced as confiding speech or at full soaring-contralto stretch – were the central characters in an entertaining and often moving show that opens a new chapter in her creative story.”