Heidi Berry: Pomegranate

Heidi Berry

Like so many of her colleagues at the 4AD label, Heidi Berry made music cherished by critics and a small if devoted group of fans while going pretty much unnoticed by the greater record-buying public. After a short stint at Briton Alan McGee’s Creation label, Berry, an American who spent much of her upbringing in Britain, found a more permanent home at 4AD, which was also home at one time or another to the Cocteau Twins, Throwing Muses, and Lush.

Pomegranate is a compilation that admittedly sets out to prove Berry’s talent and artistic significance once and for all. The disc includes highlights from Berry’s three 4AD releases — Love, Heidi Berry, and Miracle — recorded between 1991 and 1996. It also contains “Northshore Train”, the seven-minute Creation weeper that brought her to the attention of 4AD head Ivo Watts-Russell, plus her most recent effort, 1998’s “Needle’s Eye”, a collaboration with Kitchens of Distinction’s Patrick Fitzgerald released under the name of Lost Girls. The tracks are not organized chronologically, but the songs are stylistically consistent enough that the flawed sequencing is not really noticeable.

While Berry is in essence a folk singer, she does provide some of the trademark 4AD atmosphere and sonic experimentation. The folk staple of acoustic guitar drives her slow, sensual songs, but they also contain dark, Celtic instrumental flourishes and layered vocals. The string arrangements that come courtesy of her brother Chris are particularly haunting and effective.

Admittedly, Berry sings with a warm, rich vibrato that is engaging upon first listen. Unfortunately, she doesn’t push her voice much, instead staying within the same vocal range and using similar phrasing on each song. This gives the impression that her work is cloying and precious; in fact, Berry addresses this in the notes on the track “Follow”, writing: “Blows the lid off the idea that I write pretty little songs. The lyric is all about imagining a tidal wave destroying everything and drowning everyone.” The problem, which Berry obviously doesn’t see, is that the sameness of her songs and vocals distracts attention away from the lyrics, however imaginatively bleak they might be.

When all is said and done, Pomegranate is a collection of pretty, moody songs that would make lovely background music. The disc is not, however, proof that Heidi Berry is the female Nick Drake, no matter how much her former label wants us to believe it.