March 2006 – Gina Leishman, Bed Time (GCQ)

by Stephen Fruitman

Gina Leishman’s bedtime stories aren’t like Mother Goose’s. Instead of singing baby to sleep, she enfolds us grown-ups in a warm nighty-night blanket which smells faintly of spilt cocktails and cigarette smoke.

Her voice also curls through the air like the smoke from a cigarette left in an ashtray in some after hours jazz club. Leishman is otherwise a highly regarded artist on both coasts of the States, known for all kinds of vocal gymnastics. On Bed Time, she takes a different tack, keeping it all very nice, sweet (but never saccharine!) and low. All twelve tracks are self-penned, though she “borrows” lyrics for five of them from William Shakespeare (from Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night and Cymbeline, for the scholars in the audience).

On each respective track she is accompanied by just two or three instrumentalists – brushed drum and bass, or violin and piano, or guitar and bass, accordian and muted trumpet, whatever – always to exalted effect. And no surprise, that; have a look at a list of her studio musicians: Guitarist Marc Ribot (absolutely brilliant when he turns up – what else is new?); Steve Bernstein and Peck Allmond on trumpets, Doug Weiselman also on guitar, Rob Burger on accordion, Anthony Coleman on piano, Jenny Scheinman on violin, Greg Cohen and Trevor Dunn on bass and Roberto Rodriguez and Kenny Wollesen on drums and percussion. It’s an absolute all-star lineup from Downtown New York City. What’s more, Gina whips out her ukulele once or twice.

The lyrics are stellar, and suggest, cajole, invite, reassure, challenge, observe, blink shyly from beneath battering eyelashes and open their arms to embrace. The styles range from moody jazz and elegant blues to softly swinging fin-de-siècle pop like “O Mistress Mine”, a knowingly naïve setting for one of the Shakespeare texts. Many different vocalists come to mind when hearing Leishman, especially – if for nothing else, the clarity of her enunciation of each and every syllable – Annette Peacock.

This is a 2004 release, which your present reviewer only received in 2005 and who, ashamed to say, hasn’t been able to get around to reviewing before now, halfway through the third month of 2006. But its timeless quality guarantees it a long, if not eternal, shelf life.