The front cover of Heidi Berry's third album is generically 4AD, with its florid typography and super-saturated close-up photo, artistically blurred, of a closed venus flytrap. So it would have been easy to assume it was just another slab of post-Cocteau Twins dream pop, all reverb, synth washes, and swirly vocals singing impenetrable lyrics. If that's what the listener is looking for, Heidi Berry won't entirely disappoint, but it isn't just a way to pass the time until the next This Mortal Coil album. Heidi Berry is rooted in a musical style that could not have been more unfashionable in 1993, a type of highly orchestrated folk-rock pitched somewhere between Nick Drake and Sandy Denny's solo records on the one hand and southern California singer/songwriter soft rock on the other. Berry even covers "Heart Like a Wheel," the Kate McGarrigle tune that gave Linda Ronstadt's breakthrough album its name. Hugh Jones' traditional 4AD production techniques are conspicuously absent: Heidi Berry has a notably live and largely acoustic sound, free of the label's usual phalanx of effects pedals and keyboards, although the carefully layered arrangements, featuring strings, acoustic guitars, piano, occasional steel guitar accents, and various forms of hand percussion, remain as lush and textured as ever. Atypically for a Jones production, Berry's vocals are forthrightly front and center, mixed well above the low-key instrumentation; her startling vocal resemblance to Sandy Denny has never been more pronounced than on tracks like the graceful opener "Mercury." A handful of semi-famous names from the era appear in the credits alongside Berry and her longtime mentor Pete Astor (formerly of early Creation signings the Loft and the Weather Prophets), including Kitchens of Distinction guitarist Julian Swales and members of the House of Love and the Charlatans, but Berry's heart is in the art-folk scene of the late '60s and early '70s, closer in spirit to Judy Collins' Wildflowers and Nick Drake's Bryter Layter than, say, Lush or My Bloody Valentine. As a result, Heidi Berry has a timelessness many other albums from this time and place lack.
© Stewart Mason /TiVo