Judy Dyble started her career way back in the 60's, and for prog fans she will be probably have the most credibility for being involved in the first constellation of King Crimson (or the last of Giles Giles & Fripp, depending). Enough said - after having done everything other than music for thirty years, she stepped forward into the spotlight with the album "Enchanted Garden" in 2004, followed by double release "Spindle" / "The Whorl" in 2006. All albums reflected her folk background from Fairport Convention and Trader Horne, but they also had elements of a more contemportry sound, especially through collaboration with musicians such as Mark Swordfish and Simon House.
Now, the fourth album is out, and it's an album where she continues to develop the folk-roots as well as influences from other types of music. Producer, co-composer and -performer is Tim Bowness, whose background includes No-man (with Steven Wilson). The combination Dyble / Bowness has resulted in an album that breaks many genre boundaries. It is an album that moves from the cautious folkish to a pure prog-sound through its seven short and long tracks.
The opening, the barely two minutes long, "Neverknowing", gives us Dyble's crystal clear voice backed up only by Simon Nicol's acoustic guitar and the gentle vocal assistance of Bowness. From here, the album builds up slowly. "Jazz Birds" introduces some additional instruments, we meet Pat Masteotto on drums and not least ex-Crimson Ian McDonald who contributes a wonderful flute solo in a track that hints of jazz as well as folk.
The two previous albums both contained a cover (Floyd's "See Emily Play" and Crimson's "I Talk To The Wind" respectively). This time it's ELPs "C'est La Vie" which is given "the Dyble treatment". She does not change it a lot, but her voice fits the song perfectly, as does a nice arrangement based around piano and strings.
The album grows almost imperceptibly in intensity through additional three cuts, where we notice especially "Dreamtime" as the song with the clearest folk-references, rather close to our own Shine Dion, and the melancholic "Gray October Day" where she shares the vocals with Tim Bowness.
But in many ways, the album so far has been a warm-up to the nearly twenty-minute closing cut "Harpsong". With a text that deals with Dyble's own life - how she lost the music in the 70s, but found it again thirty years later - this composition is much like the whole album in miniature. Participating on the song is a multitude of musicians and singers, from her early "folk-colleagues" Jaqui McShee (Pentangle) and Celia Humphries (Trees) to Robert Fripp, Ian McDonald, Alistair Murphy and Pat Masteotto. Musically, the song builds up from a frail vocal theme to a musical cascade midway where instruments fade in and out and are held together only by Mastelottos hypnotic rhythm and Fripp guitars and soundscapes. Suddenly, we hear a riff as if taken from Crimson's "Lizard" and the contrast to the opening notes could hardly have been greater. The chaos ends in a short part inspired by "Starless" and gradually, we return to normal everyday life.
Talking With Strangers is an album of enormous contrasts, it challenges both the traditional folk rock and prog, and through good compositions and thoughtful arrangements, it manages to succeed on both fronts.