It’s generally accepted that artists often need to take some time tofind their niche, as well as the more nebulous concept of their “ownvoice”, but Gabby Young was a flame haired exception when she arrivedin 2010 with her debut album We’re All In This Together. Her starkbrand of gypsy folk and affection for larger-than-life fashionstatements saw her arrive with something of a fanfare, ably assistedby her eight-piece band, immediately cornering (and, well, creating) themarket for “circus swing” in a flash of primary colours.
Whilst arriving seemingly fully-formed has its advantages – an actthat is eminently marketable tends to gain favour among record companysuits, especially in these austere times – there’s also a cloudlurking inside the silver lining: how to build on the formula. Thewatchword for difficult-second-album The Band Called Out For More isprogression.
Matters kick off suitably vibrantly with the 1920s speakeasy skitterof In Your Head, Young trilling away like Imelda May on arollicking, insistent tale about paranoia. Punctuated by brass andshuffling drums that give matters real zip, it’s certainly a pleasantenough diversion. The trick is repeated elsewhere – Horatio alternatesbetween a high noon strut, albeit one that would make EnnioMorricone shudder, and bar room honky-tonk, with Goldfish Bowlhaving a warm, jaunty acoustic edge. The songs are like a sleight ofhand trick – very enjoyable but always running the risk that lookingtoo closely will ruin the illusion. And it’s nothing she hasn’tequalled before.
Problems come in striving for a pared-down maturity, which naturallyinvites the dreaded closer inspection. When the zesty swing artificeis stripped away it becomes obvious that a craft is often far fromhoned; more often than not it shows up conservative,verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus fare. Matters certainly aren’thelped by the lyrics. There’s certainly enough of them, tumbling outin attempts at confessional storytelling, but the more Young wants tosay the less weight her words carry. Honey features a rhyming schemethat Des’ree would think twice about (“You taste like honey, doyou mind if I call you honey? Coz that’s money enough for me”), andOpen has a children’s choir which would’ve made a better stab at thehackneyed fridge-magnet wisdom it employs.
That said, missteps are a natural part of improvement and Young justneeds to ensure she learns from them. Thankfully, there’s evidencethat she is – Male Version Of Me is a decent attempt at a torch songabout finding a soul mate and The Answer’s In The Question combinesthe best of her two musical personas, snaking from spare piano towoozy burlesque. Segment is another success, a song about simpledevotion benefitting from more traditional folksy support, building toa rousing finale with brass, strings and crashing drums over a simplelyric. It’s just a pity that it’s buried in the record’s finalquarter, by which point patience may have worn thin for many.
Gabby Young is proof that having striking looks don’t always equal aclear sense of identity, musical or no. The Band Called Out For Moretries to move on from circus swing to keep pace with fashion, but thesmoke and mirrors are still required to cover the hit and misssongwriting. Yet while the record might find its feet a little too late,there’s plenty of evidence to show that Young is going somewhere. Ifnext time she can harness a lyrical idiosyncrasy to match her imageand maturing musical edge, she’ll really be going places.