While Portishead is on indefinite hiatus, the voice of the groundbreaking duo, Beth Gibbons, has found another collaborator in former Talk Talk bass player Paul Webb, a.k.a. Rustin Man. On Out of Season, the duo's first effort together, Webb brings out new dimensions in Gibbons, giving her range while deepening her vocal abilities.
With Gibbons' melancholic tones being the primary identifying characteristic of Portishead's sound, hearing her on a very different style of music is both surprising and refreshing. Webb's musical approach veers toward the orchestral -- part symphony, part big band -- with flourishing strings and sophisticated horns. Against this background, Gibbons sounds decidedly less desolate and more like who she is trying to emulate: Nina Simone. Still tortured, as on the acoustic "Resolve" or the doomed "Mysteries," Gibbons' torch singing takes a turn for the nearly hopeful on "Tom the Model," where she sounds borderline triumphant against the epic arrangements, and the harmonica-decorated "Drake," where she seems almost not suicidal.
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Although not nearly as revolutionary as Portishead, this project suits itself to Gibbons' talents. In turns delicate and robust, Webb's malleable musical attempts complement her cadences impressively -- even if they end up dragging toward the end.