In an age of safety-first conformity, it’s a refreshing pleasure to see an artist like Gabby Young develop on her own terms. With a shock of flame-red hair and a live show that owes as much to theatrical showmanship as much as it does to musicianship, she’s become pretty difficult to pigeonhole over the course of her career.
One Foot In Front Of The Other, Young’s third album, continues this uncategorisable journey. Mixing together jazz, folk, cabaret, burlesque and swing (often in the same song) and delivered by Young’s extraordinary, operatic vocals, the results manage to be quirky without annoying and accessible while remaining defiantly uncommercial.
For this third album, Young and her band Other Animals have cast their musical net even further. There’s an obvious French influence for a start, as shown by the album’s beautiful opening track Sur La Lune, but there’s also a more personal style of songwriting, making Young’s lyrics much more affecting this time around.
There are plenty of times during One Foot In Front Of The Other which convince you that Young could well follow the likes of Imelda May or Caro Emerald – taking a particular brand of retro-pop, updating it and introducing it to a brand new audince. The ode to self-improvement, I’ve Improved, is a ska-inflected stomper guaranteed to raise a smile, especially with opening lyrics such as “the other day I stumbled on a news broadcast, and I hadn’t even heard of the country, so embarrassed I searched and googled the Earth”.
Time is in a similar, brass-laden, vein, while the Balkan-influenced The Devil Has Moved In is beautifully and dramatically arranged, making the most of the expertise of the Other Animals. Yet what makes this album a real step up for Young is the ballads – the beautifully poised Fear Of Flying is possibly the best thing she’s ever written, all the better for keeping things restrained and simple, making the tale of overcoming phobias all the more affecting.
That move to a simpler sound also pays dividends in the hushed Saviour and especially in the stunning Another Ship, which slowly builds into a gorgeously lush ballad. For an artist who’s always been more known for an exuberant ‘throw in the kitchen sink’ type of approach, it’s a revelatory new direction, and one that shows off Young’s technically brilliant voice (she originally trained as an opera singer) to its very best advantage.
The band haven’t lost that celebratory approach though – the energy of Young’s live show is effortlessly transplanted in the studio, and the closing track Back Where We Started adds some calypso flavour into the mix, with steel drums and a chanted chorus making it sound like the future soundtrack to every festival over the summer. The title track is more downbeat but no less successful, being built upon some stately piano chords that slowly builds up to a gloriously cinematic climax.
The sheer number of styles and genres explored by Young may leave some feeling dizzy, but it’s an exhilarating journey. One Foot In Front Of The Other may not be the most conventional album of the year, but it’s all the better for that.