KATE DIMBLEBY – Songbirds (Folkstock FSR44)

SongbirdsFor the past 25 years Kate Dimbleby, the daughter of legendary broadcaster David and opera loving cookery writer Josceline, has been plying her musical trade in live performance, most notably in her one woman shows and albums based around Peggy Lee and Dory Previn. However, Songbirds, her sixth studio album and accompanying show, is the first on which she’s written all the material and the first she’s performed (almost entirely) a capella, layering her voice using techniques learned studying under Bobby McFerrin.

An experiment in polyphonics, she describes it as charting her own journey to find her true voice and it ranges stylistically across jazz, blues, folk and even reggae while the songs themselves span many years. Indeed, the opening track, the bluesy spiritual styled, scat-accompanied, fingerclicking ‘Limbo’, was the first song she ever wrote (and originally featured in its late night jazz arrangement on 2006’s Things As They Are), the outcome of her first real heartbreak while the lyrically upbeat 20s jazz and doo wop shades of ‘Whatever’ emerged from the first song she wrote after the family’s move to Bristol five years ago.

The dreamy 50sish ‘Love Can Be Easy’, born of and reflecting a peaceful day camping by the sea is of more recent origin, as is ‘Happy’, a follow on from her work with McFerrin that involves vocal looping, scat vocal backing and some playful warbling was the spontaneous result of task set by online group the Society for Spontaneous Singing. Another group exercise was also responsible for the brief ‘Harder Than You Think’, a sort of vocally multilayered work song about the difficulty in writing a song about walking. Equally brief is the 66 second ‘At Our Best’, a minstrel-like song you could imagine having been penned by Stephen Foster.

The newest though is ‘Life Is’, completed just before going into the studio, a straightforward soaring pop song for her husband and father about telling people you appreciate them while they’re still around to listen.

There’s a hint of the McGarrigles and some discrete beatboxing – to be heard on ‘Musical Boxes’, an idea that formed the basis for her live show in that, as she puts it, “we’re all musical boxes with our own themes and resonances but we just don’t listen enough to really appreciate each other. I liken it to the dawn chorus… every bird is offering up something totally unique.”

The remaining three songs have their roots in specific locations. The bass hummed, gospel infused ‘These Things, They Will Come’, a how long/be patient number, stems from time spent on Vancouver Island back in 2003 where at the time suffering from severe back pain, she retreated to a more simple life and found healing, both physically and mentally, in nature.

A hill in Sussex spawned the wordless vocal line in album closer, ‘Song For A Hill’, the only non a capella number, employing percussion, bells, electronic sounds and field recordings made in London, and the penultimate track, my personal favourite, the simple and quite lovely and poignant ‘Walk Away’. An uncluttered, simply sung number, her lone voice and self-harmonising again reminiscent of the McGarrigles, it’s about finding intimacy and beauty, both in the world around and within yourself. She says the album is about the voices we keep locked up inside and about the need for connection. Do yourself a favour, open the cage and build a bridge.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.katedimbleby.com

‘These Things They Will Come’ live: