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Reviews:First, the good news: after an extended dry spell, Portishead singer Beth Gibbons is back. Not as a member of her long-lollygagging main project, which continues to delay the release of its third studio album (originally scheduled to come out early this year). Nope. Gibbons has been collaborating with another long-silent character, ex-Talk Talk/O'Rang multi-instrumentalist Paul Webb. Better still, the two moodmeisters have fashioned the most mysterious song of their equally mysterious songmaking careers, "Rustin Man."
Over a bed of haunted, mutant-calliope laptop and the occasional ectoplasmic scrape or hiss, Gibbons croaks "Oh Rustin Man/ I can't deny this is you again/ Little I know but how the hold is holding you" like a five year-old from another dimension, as Webb slips in oddly processed pieces of her vocal and a strangely appropriate harmonica. As the song ends, with Gibbons repeating "again"'s last syllable over and over, you get the impression that her head is about to fly off.
Unfortunately, nothing else on Out of Season is nearly as engaging as "Rustin Man," which inspired Webb to take the song's title as his recording identity. Much of the album finds Gibbons striving for folkish classicism or Billie Holiday-on-ice soul, only to end up sounding trapped in an endless loop between fern bar and renfest. It's a beautiful-sounding record, though-the kind that'll warm the cockles of any audiophile's heart-and makes for perfectly servicable wallpaper. Plus, the secret track, a live rendition of the Velvet Underground's "Candy Says," is a joy.