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Music Review

Gabrielle: 'Always'

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Gabrielle: 'Always'
Released on Monday, Oct 1 2007

Mica, Caron and Beverley might have been blessed with stronger soul voices – in the Aretha-style "I Am Woman Hear Me Roar!" sense, at least – but Louise Gabrielle Bobb has managed to trump every one of her Brit-soul contemporaries. Her strong, easily-relatable songs, amiable stage performances and ability to sing about heartbreak in a dignified, unostentatious manner have gifted her an enviable CV: ten top ten hits, eight platinum discs and a pair of shiny Brit awards isn't bad going for a singer who was frequently told she didn't "fit the normal stereotype" for chart success. And no-one's ever rocked an eyepatch quite like her.

But, after the relative failure of 2004’s Play To Win, the Hackney-born warbler was forced to regroup. The result? Always, her fifth studio album, is the most innately Gabrielle record of her career. After a tussle with a 'Heartbreaker', she ekes out 'Every Little Teardrop', tells herself 'I'm Not In Love' and begins to get 'Wiser'. Then, after a 'Cold Sober Moment', she finally attains that elusive feeling she's been striving for in the pit of her stomach: 'Closure'. Well, thank goodness for that! But, whatever Always might lack in lyrical innovation, it more than makes up for in class, warmth and good old-fashioned song-craft. The smooth, dreamy soul-pop of 'I Remember' is reminiscent of mid-seventies Diana Ross, especially in Gabrielle's spoken word overdubs, while the Motown redux of 'Love Me Like You Do' – all melodramatic strings, pile-driving piano chords and swooning pop melodies - gives Gabrielle the chance to show off her upper register. 'Every Little Teardrop', meanwhile, is a Philly soul pastiche every bit as convincing as Lenny Kravitz's 'It Ain’t Over Til It's Over'.

And then there's 'Heartbreaker', on which Gabrielle does her wronged woman act over the gospel-rock backing track from Primal Scream's 'Rocks'. With its stomping drum beat, ringing guitar riffs and Gabrielle’s wounded cries of "Take a piece of my heart", it’s the aural equivalent of being dumped by that absolute bastard you’ve been wasting your time with for God knows how long, getting hopelessly drunk at the pub round the corner and then falling into the dustbins on the way home. Gabrielle's bruised, pleading vocal suggests she's no stranger to the experience.

Always isn't without its faults – 'All I Want' slips uncomfortably into eighties wine bar territory, and there are one too many mid-tempo acoustic soul jams in its final stretch - but it does show why, before Amy Winehouse and her "ickle carpet burns" came along, Gabrielle was able to reign supreme as the UK music scene's unimpeachable queen of heartache.

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