Without fitting into any particular scene, Heidi Berry (born in Boston but raised in the UK) has developed her own aesthetic, one clearly based on early folk/rock singer/songwriter models and approached from a Celtic angle. Nonetheless, her wavering, emotive soprano refracts other styles, and Firefly fits in comfortably with Creation’s late-’80s stable. Backing her on these six songs are members of the Weather Prophets and Felt keyboardist Martin Duffy, whose colorful piano playing spices up the pleasant amalgam of Sandy Denny-esque folk and crisp guitar pop. Fittingly, this coherent EP features moody, folky sounding ruminations (“Houses Made of Wood”) and sprightly pop (“Firefly”), with an occasional shower from the Weather Prophets (“Nobody Tells on You”).
While Firefly‘s cover art depicts Berry hanging out in jeans and a Western shirt, Below the Waves sees her in all black, lounging on a red sofa with a cigarette dangling from her fingers; the image shift underscores the album’s more contemplative, less jangly tone. “It’s quiet here/It’s warm here/It’s peaceful/It’s dark/I am not lost,” she sings over the title cut’s sparse arrangement, setting the album’s introspective mood. The accompaniment is also different, as the Weather Prophets’ jaunty, sparkling chords are replaced by the subtle acoustic guitar picking of Berry’s brother Christopher. The opening “Ribbons” intertwines Berry’s better-controlled voice with a curving violin line and simple autoguitar strums. The melancholy, fuller-sounding “Northshore Train,” reinforced by a larger string section, and the sunnier, piano-based “All for You” hint at broader stylistic possibilities. While Below the Waves is a pleasant dip into new waters for Berry, the album is not as fully realized as her subsequent explorations would be. The domestic CD of Below the Waves includes Firefly.
Love retains the personal tone, but beefs it up slightly with fuller, more mood-sculpting arrangements, adding synthesizer, impressionistic electric guitar by Terry Bickers (House of Love, Levitation) and warm fretless bass from Levitation’s Laurence O’Keefe (who also co-wrote a song here). Weather Prophets Peter Astor and Dave Morgan also return to help out. In addition to the usual beautifully presented originals — including the languorous “Gloria” and the uplifting “Wake” — Berry attempts her first cover version, bringing a graceful interpretation of Bob Mould’s “Up in the Air” to life with her distinctive, studied voice.
“Mercury,” the opening cut of Heidi Berry, sets the stage for an album of even fuller arrangements, stronger atmospheres and more lively and varied structures, making it her most sure-footed, confident LP to date. Most of Love‘s cast returns, augmented by Kitchens of Distinction guitarist Julian Swales (credited with “guitar shimmers”). Many of the songs — including “The Moon and the Sun,” “Darling Companion” and “Distant Thunder” — even rub elbows with a rock sound and structure, making them approachable without sacrificing any of Berry’s personality. In addition to two O’Keefe collaborations, Berry presents a telling take on Anna McGarrigle’s “Heart Like a Wheel,” linking her further to a period and a sound.