Heidi Talbot,
In Love & Light
(Compass, 2008)

The good news first: Heidi Talbot has a gorgeous voice. If you took Kate Rusby and gave her a bit of Alison Krauss's ethereal breathiness, you'd have Talbot. Delicate, pitch-perfect and expressive, her voice is the single best reason to buy In Light & Love.

Unfortunately, Talbot's second solo CD (following a brief stint as lead singer for Cherish the Ladies) doesn't quite do her voice justice.

Each of the 12 tracks is pleasant to listen to, well-arranged and beautifully sung. Together, however, there is an audible lack of cohesiveness. Moving away from the traditional Celtic sounds of Talbot's earlier work, In Light & Love uncomfortably straddles the genres of folk, pop, trad and lounge.

Take the song "Invisible" and its follower "Bedlam Boys." "Invisible" is a loungy, late-night song, charming and smooth, if a little bland. But "Bedlam Boys" is a taut, stripped rendition of a traditional piece in which Talbot's voice shines, sparsely accompanied by percussion and guitar. Guest musician John McCusker contributes a short, vibrant fiddle solo. And then there's a cover of Tom Waits' "Time," which is ear-friendly but loses a bit in the translation between Waits' husky growl and Talbot's mellifluous, sweet vocals. The songs work individually, but they don't seem to belong to the same CD.

Traditionalists will appreciate the Scottish ballad "Glenlogie," a lovely medley of flute, guitar, mandolin and vocals -- never mind that the heroine of the ballad is a manipulative wench. Folksier, toe-tapping tracks include the upbeat "Music Tree" and "Everything," which might almost be suitable for the next local square dance.

But it's one of the pop tracks I find most compelling: "Cathedrals" is a wistful, postmodern lament. Against a sparse guitar background, Talbot sings, "There is a feeling you should just go home / And spend a lifetime finding out just what that is." The vulnerability of her voice complements the lyrics perfectly.

Celtophiles may find that In Light & Love strays too far afield; pop and folk fans may not think it goes far enough. Despite undeniable talent, Talbot has yet to find her own strengths and sound. Light and lovely though the CD may be, it lacks the depth and cohesiveness of a mature body of work.

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review by
Jennifer Mo

3 May 2008

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