Released: June 2014
“I want to make everyone smile” professes Gabby Young, now on her third album of convention-defying jazz pop with the aural pick ‘n’ mix that is One Foot In Front of the Other. It’s a pretty simple mission statement, and one in which she patently succeeds. This varied record draws from a plethora of influences but the real engine behind it is Young and her writer/producer/partner Stephen Ellis who infuse love and soul into an uplifting album, one made with intelligence and an overarching simplicity.
The song Young refers to when explaining her musical master plan is aptly named Smile, a sweet, folk influenced ballad that doesn’t attempt anything particularly innovative in order to challenge the listener, and that’s kind of the point. There are a handful of tracks on One Foot In Front of the Other that perform the same function, such as Saviour and hidden track Jessica, which act as a break from the elaborate elation that characterises so much of the record. These tender moments are gorgeous snippets in themselves but the tracks that really shine here are those that ignore genre and step out into the void, showcasing Young’s ability to fuse styles with her alluring voice and ability to pen equally enchanting melodies.
On the second track of the record – the cross-continent sounding Time that belongs as much in a 1920s New York bar as it does your local Nando’s restaurant – Young professes that “No reins can hold my voice back when it gets in its stride”, and boy is she right. Be it on the Vera Lynn-esque waltz of Sur La Lune (…A French Ditty) or the triumphant brass anthem I’ve Improved the songstress wails, scats and warbles her way through the album’s twelve tracks, commanding the listener to give her the attention her powerful yet equally gentle voice deserves. The often stripped back production strangely works in her favour, her vocals clashing with the band in a way that recalls traditional pop and the gritty records of the early 20th century, contributing greatly to the retro qualities of the record.
As the sound of each song evolves, moving from pop to jazz, folk to bossa nova, as does the tone of Young’s lyrics. There’s plenty of tongue in cheek self-aggrandising on the bigger numbers but to compliment that the singer often explores her inner demons, her own flaws and insecurities, something Young herself has admitted is new to her. Some of it works and some of it doesn’t. As much as her revealing a more tender soul on tracks like Fear of Flying is refreshing and intriguing, a lot of the album seems to revolve around showmanship and performance and it’s the larger than life escapism that her personality helps to form that is the most exciting aspect of One Foot In Front of the Other. It’s not that her more introspective lyrics aren’t welcome, but some confused metaphors and lyrics that recall when the singer “Googled the Earth” really stand out as bum notes if not backed by a big band sound.
This is an album from a very self-assured singer who, with three LPs under her belt, knows exactly where she wants to go with her music. Having crafted a sound distinctly her own, Gabby Young never fails to adopt new styles and genres, even exploring different lyrical approaches with mixed results. What this songwriter knows is how to construct near perfect pop songs, injecting elements of the quirky and surreal but nonetheless maintaining an accessibility that is always close at hand. This is glorious pop music, just not as you know it.