A truly exceptional, once in a generation talent, possessing a voice of such sizzling intensity and raw emotion you could fry an egg on it. —Peter Quinn, Jazzwise
What is it about British singers and the blues? The United Kingdom has a long history of producing some of the most startlingly soulful artists this side of Aretha Franklin. Lately, that title’s been taken by a popular singer in her 30s named Polly Gibbons. She’s already a big deal in London, a decade into her pursuit of jazz. With the February 3, 2015 release of her U.S. debut album/DVD, Many Faces Of Love, on Resonance Records, Gibbons could conquer the rest of the world next.
A 2006 BBC Jazz Award nominee, Gibbons put together a stunning showcase of her soulful vocal range and deep sense of interpretation in this debut. She wisely amped up the groove factor on the album with the known quantity of award-winning L.A. pianist/arranger Tamir Hendelman, no slouch in elevating vocalists, violinist Christian Howes, Kevin Axt, Tierney Sutton’s uptown bassist, drummer Ray Brinker, and torch-guitarist Anthony Wilson.
Although the British singer is also a winning songwriter (“Midnight Prayer” off her 2014 UK jazz release My Own Company took top honors at the Indie International Songwriting Competition), she’s chosen to make her U.S. debut with a singularly original take on 12 blues-drenched covers.
Gibbons covers songs like the radio-ready “Make It Last,” “Please Send Me Someone To Love,” and “Company” with the soulful nature of almost all the legendary artists she grew up adoring, from Nina Simone and Marvin Gaye, to Mahalia Jackson, Joni Mitchell, and Donny Hathaway. She also leaves traces of Sia’s “Chandelier” grinding agony and Rickie Lee Jones’ swagger.
It’s not enough just to be blessed with that throaty static of a voice. There are a million of them waiting in the wings. The difference, which anyone can hear off “That’s Enough For Me,” is what Gibbons does with the blank slate of these covers by some bold, distinctive personalities. On the Patti Austin favorite, Gibbons chooses her moments wisely, on track with the song’s sexy, confident strut, and a kind of backhanded lyrical wave, street smart yet clean.
Bold? She takes over Al Jarreau’s spacious “Not Like This,” armed with the enhanced protection and sensitivity of pianist Hendelman and violinist Howes. In doing so, she exposes her vulnerabilities — risking the rise and fall of every square inch of her vocal progress in the process. A lesser vocalist would crack, or lose herself in the spacious skies of such a lush but enormous lyrical room leaving nothing to waste. Gibbons tears up the landscape with strength, consideration, and restraint in all the right places.
If you close your eyes on the timeless standard, “Since I Fell For You,” you could swear Gibbons is channeling an old black woman churning the blues in the naked South. Well, until she hits certain words in the vocabulary — “I can’t get you out of my heart” — unique to the U.S., and then you hear a bit of a stodgy British accent, reminding you this is someone else entirely.
Polly Gibbons is on a tour, spreading her blue-eyed soul in the Netherlands and her London. When will she come to America? We can only hope and pray it’s soon.