Album Reviews

Isobel Heyworth – Close Your Eyes

(Earwig Recordings) UK release date: 6 March 2006

If you like your female singer songwriters, then Isobel Heyworth is an interesting prospect, being not only a songwriting singer who is female, but one in the most classic English sense – whimsical, gently melodic, slightly pensive with an acoustic guitar and folky leanings.

While it seems almost impossible these days to say ‘female singer songwriter’ without the accompanying mantra ‘Joni Mitchell‘ (seemingly the benchmark from which other unfortunate lesser mortals must be measured), it should be stressed that Isobel Heyworth is nothing like the Canadian godmother of singer songwriterdom.

Mitchell, even before she went ‘jazz’, used her voice like a jazz instrument, climbing all over her vocal range in a dazzling display of virtuosity. Heyworth’s style is much more tidy and compact, almost shying away from displaying any emotion greater than slight pensiveness or mild joy. A more accurate likeness would be drawn with Kathryn Williams (particularly on the gently brooding God Knows Why) or even Suzanne Vega‘s first album, in terms of a minimalist, stripped back approach to songwriting and production.

In some instances the minimalist approach works well. I Am Worn is a simple motif with a beautifully lilting melody and Plant Me a Tree is even more pared back which perfectly matches the lyrics, which are about wanting a tree planted on her grave so that the wood can then be used for her lover’s coffin ‘so I may ever protect you’. Heyworth’s lyrics are her strength and songs this poetic are a rare thing indeed.

As is the danger with such understated production, a whole albums’ worth can sound a little one dimensional (unless you’re Devendra Banhart), so naturally there are some tracks with a few more instruments. Strangely, these don’t have the same impact as the sparser efforts. The rather ordinary waltztime workouts of Falling Through the Cracks and Just for You are a little too predictable and the Charleston-esque Song 2a (a million miles away from, and so not to be confused with, Blur‘s similarly-monikered mosh anthem) seems a little misguided choice of style, as it really doesn’t suit the limitations of Heyworth’s voice.

Speaking of which, it’s exactly this limitation that lets this album down a little. Heyworth’s voice is rather thin, understated and lacking warmth. Some might say the same thing about Suzanne Vega, but in Heyworth’s case it seems to affect the overall sound. I’m not saying it isn’t nice – we’re not talking Joanna Newsom here – it’s perfectly tuneful in fact. Just not big enough to carry an album which is largely her and her guitar, and certainly not a match for her lyrics.

While not an album to blow you away, Close Your Eyes certainly has enough to creep under your skin a few listens in and well worthinvestigating if like your music quiet, understated and slightly pensive.

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Isobel Heyworth – Close Your Eyes