British chanteuse Beth Gibbons once provided the emotional anchor for Portishead's haunting trip-hop. Ditching turntable scratches, swooping theremin, and programmed beats for decidedly organic accompaniment, Gibbons and collaborator "Rustin Man" (a.k.a. Paul Webb, bassist for defunct new-wavers-turned-experimentalists Talk Talk) mix jazz, folk, and R&B influences on Out of Season while still leaning toward the torch singer's tragic side.
Opening with a full minute of Enoesque ambient sound, "Mysteries" blossoms into a sparse symphony of acoustic guitar and choir that backs Gibbons's weary, achingly beautiful vocal. "Tom the Model" pulses with a horn-driven, string-drenched Memphis-soul groove that wouldn't sound out of place on a classic Al Green album.
Out of Season revels in its diverse palette, running the gamut from the lush Bacharach-meets-Axelrod arrangement on "Romance" to the starkly folky rumination "Resolve." The relentless melancholy of Gibbons's songs might be a bit much for some, but she pulls off the heartbroken pathos when most would degenerate into woebegone caricature.