I Used To Be is a deeply appropriate title for Gail Ann Dorsey’s first solo record in over ten years. Since 1995 she’s been a regular staple of David Bowie‘s band, and is a much respected bass player. However, she used to be a singer/songwriter in her own right, and released two critically acclaimed albums, The Corporate World in 1988 and Rude Blue in 1992.
Her work with Bowie and various other artists has meant that her solo work has taken a backseat in recent years though. I Used To Be is a collection of songs that Dorsey has written over the last 20 years or so and will hopefully reintroduce the public to her considerable talents.
Dorsey’s sound is very much smooth, easy listening pop with an RnB edge to it. There’s nothing ground-breaking or cutting edge about it, but her skills as a songwriter means that the album is packed full of beautifully crafted ballads. The opening pair of Nether Land and Tell Me (Barely Alive) are gorgeously languid melodies which Dorsey’s impressive voice glides over. There’s an attractive sadness to the atmosphere too, but Dorsey is sassy enough to not descend into self-pity.
As well as Bowie, Dorsey has also worked with Tears For Fears a lot over the years and Roland Orzabal pops up a couple of times here to repay the favour. Orzabal has co-written two tracks here, Be My Angel and Whether You Are The One, the latter being one of the standouts of the album. You’d be hard pushed to find any Tears For Fears influences here though, this being Dorsey’s show all the way.
Although Dorsey is probably best known as a bass player, her voice is most impressive throughout the album. She cites Joan Armatrading as a major influence, and it’s easy to spot that on I Used To Be. There are also hints of Joni Mitchell on the excellent The Big Decision and Bacharach-era Dionne Warwick is another reference on This Time.
It may all be a bit too smooth for some tastes, and on first listen some of the album may just wash over the listener. However, on subsequent plays the beauty and subtlety of Dorsey’s music starts to work its magic. There are upbeat moments though, such as the light funk of The Fool which is another highlight – the self-deprecating lyrics describing a bad relationship being all too realistic.
On the basis of I Used To Be, it would be a shame if Dorsey was only known as a jobbing session musician. There are songs here that would put to shame an artist twice as prolific – hopefully her next album will be with us a lot quicker than it took this to be created.