Louise Goffin has, despite label-related setbacks and periods of uncertainty, built a catalogue that merits much more attention than it gets. She’s skilled in a variety of record-making competences – from piano-playing to production. Although Goffin regards her first few albums as a very public form of learning and mistake-making, those early works, Kid Blue (Asylum, 1979), Louise Goffin (Asylum, 1981), and This Is the Place (Warner Brothers, 1988) have considerable charm and ably demonstrate her talents as musician (guitar, keyboards, bass and more), singer and writer. It was on the last of those three that, as well as rhyming ‘tryst’ with ‘resist’ (clever, I thought), she shed the rather adenoidal qualities of her singing voice, revealing a more graceful and nuanced instrument underneath.
All These Hellos is her seventh album. More than just solidly melodic pop music (although that would be enough), it journeys into everything from self-determination to romantic frivolity and quiet reflection. Goffin has a highly developed ear for a memorable turn of phrase and a knockout chord progression. There’s a dividing line in her career between the pre- and post-millennial albums. On the former, to one extent or another, her vision was diluted by the producers to whom, owing to self-doubt, she deferred. On the latter, starting with her Dreamworks release, Sometimes a Circle (2002), she had the courage of her convictions, and it showed. Furthermore, her collaborators and co-producers were now supporting her ideas rather than superimposing them with their own.
In a fairer world, where success was commensurate with talent, Sometimes a Circle would have seen Goffin take off stratospherically. It certainly scored well with the critics. Dreamworks was going to support another album from her when they were acquired by Interscope, and she found herself without a recording home. Consequently, 2008’s Bad Little Animals was an indie release. At eight tracks, it was billed as an EP, but its 32-minute duration would have made it count as an album in the ’70s or ’80s (only in the ’90s, at the height of the CD era, did albums routinely become 50-minutes-plus). 2014 brought the crowd-funded Songs From the Mine, swiftly followed by an EP commemorating Gerry Goffin, Appleonfire.
The credits on All These Hellos are lit up with names from the 1960s and every subsequent decade; arrangers Van Dyke Parks (also notable as a Warner Bros recording artist in the 1960s and beyond) and Patrick Warren, Greg Leisz, celebrated for his work with Lucinda Williams, on pedal steel, Mark Goldenberg, whose session work dates back to the mid-70s and includes albums for Linda Ronstadt, on acoustic guitar, and original Heartbreaker, Benmont Tench, on piano and mellotron. Goffin’s co-writers include two men whose recording careers began in the 1980s, Lone Justice’s Marvin Etzioni and David & David’s David Baerwald. There are guest vocals from Chris Difford (Squeeze) and Rufus Wainwright.
Because there’s such a cohesive vision at play, the appearance of all those glittery names doesn’t lead to the cluttered, distracted quality that so often ensues from too many celebrity guests. Instead, the result is Goffin’s most pleasing and impressive work since Sometimes a Circle, reuniting her with Dave Way, co-producer on Songs From the Mine. With her throughout is the British rhythm section of Jeremy Stacey (drums) and David Caitlin-Birch (bass) who supported her when she opened for her mother, Carole King, in Hyde Park, London in the summer of 2015.
There are innumerable highlights. Some of what you’ll hear here is catchy from the moment it hits the ear while some of it reveals itself gradually. There’s “The Last Time I Saw My Sister”, opening with a guitar playing ascending fourths (fourths are always good for creating a sense of tension; something about them always sounds less settled, more restless than thirds or fifths) before an impressionistic story unfolds, concerning the relationship between Goffin and her sibling and the importance of questioning the motives behind unsolicited advice. The exquisite Patrick Warren string arrangement recalls Led Zeppelin and the 1970s iteration of Heart.
“Let Me in Again” is a dark, searching ballad, with prominent gravelly guitar and piano, in which the narrator reflects on a particularly modern-day malaise (“No one has time to love anymore / No one has time to hold anyone”). The title track describes a nostalgic idyll which could be literal or representative of something broader (“Meet me at the summer house / Just the way you always did / I’ll hang your clothes on a fishing pole / Like I did when we were kids”), its verses prefigured by a deliciously yearning guitar figure. “Chinatown”, with its woozy, intoxicating Van Dyke Parks orchestrations and Rufus Wainwright cameo, sounds like something looking for a musical or experimental film to be part of.
On “Turn to Gold”, one of several songs written with long-term collaborator Billy Harvey (he also sings on it), the C3 Organ played by Dillon O’Brian casts an eerie, nocturnal spell, fitting for the album’s most mystical set of lyrics. From one song to the next, there are few missteps, and the pacing is just right. “Paris, France”, with the Chris Difford appearance (he sings the same lines as Goffin, an octave lower), has an insistent 4/4 groove and the most perfectly formed, economical melody set to words via the one-note-to-each-syllable method favoured by composition purists.
Goffin is a singer/songwriter in the tradition of her parents’ generation, one which transcends genre. She flits effortlessly from “A Fine Surprise”, a lovely, fluid folk-rock ballad about personal epiphany, to “Good Times Call”, a jubilant Motown homage, and she does it in such a way that the seams and the joins are simply not visible or audible. All These Hellos is, of all her albums, the one that strikes the best balance between an artist’s experimental traits and her commercial instincts. It’s accessible without pandering and has a seductive dreaminess about it, as it finds new ways to touch on the old themes of love, loss, human connection and wonder at being alive. It will almost certainly sound as good or better in five years time and continue to age well.
While music industry parentage may facilitate introductions, it can’t have always been easy, operating in the shadow cast by mother and father. It was apparent from her first album that Goffin wasn’t trading on a name. She was responding to an authentic calling and following her own muse. Her songs have their own hallmarks, their own quirks, and she continues to prove that she’s her own woman. All These Hellos has roots planted firmly in the rock and pop values of the ’60s and ’70s, but it never treats those sources as gimmicks and is not self-consciously ‘retro’.
Talking of rock and pop, Goffin’s music doesn’t cleave to the idea, gifted to us by those delightful folks in marketing, that you have to be one or the other (which partly explains why the all-pop production of her third album wasn’t a fit with which she was entirely comfortable). Not for the first time, she’s made something that’s both rock and pop, something to savour; it’s everything an album should be. That’s partly because a significant amount of it was recorded live, as a band, in the studio, so the beat driving each song is human not a computer, and partly because of the unassailable quality of the songwriting.