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Lisbee Stainton Lisbee Stainton
Album: Then Up
Label: Marionet
Tracks: 13

It sounds like it has been a big three years for Lisbee Stainton since her last release, the highly accomplished, soul-searching Word Games. If that record suggested she was about to take a slice of the industry's centre stage for herself, this follow up suggests she's operating far more freely on her own terms now.

Each of the previous four albums have marked clear progress - it's a confident, assured body of work that fully justifies her reputation as a songwriter of genuine poise and promise - and Then Up continues in that vein. Her most secure work to date, the voice is richer, bigger and more lived-in than before; the playing alive and certain, the production restrained and classy.

It's helped of course by the return of familiar cohorts - she's worked with Jack Rutter (gtr) and Cormac Bryne (percs) before and in Seth Lakeman's band, Adele's bassist Pete Randall is also a Lisbee regular and singer Eleanor McEvoy, who co-writes three songs, is an old friend and touring comrade. Their connectivity is clear as they play together in support of the songs, giving Lisbee the freedom to tell her stories and push her vocals, which have never sounded better than on the set's most avowedly 'folk' moment, Spark.

The spritely Vodka and Tonic (don't mind if I do!) acts as a warning as well as a non-judgemental account of the way things are sometimes; while the opening cut Burn Out explores some inner turmoil and deftly sets up what becomes a recurrent theme on the album.

Elsewhere there are poppy moments (Reason, which comes on like a hymn to mental scanning), some gently offbeat jazz (Gloria, a love story across the Berlin Wall) and more insightful self examination, the album closer Be Still, that suggests the singer has found a way of charting a course through the panic and accessing calmer thoughts.

It's a tough old world to be sure, but moments like this are a welcome source of hope.

Nick Churchill