Naomi Berrill: From the Ground
Ethnorth Gallery

On her fifteen-song collection From the Ground, it's Naomi Berrill's curatorial skills that perhaps impress more than her abilities as a singer and classically trained cellist. The debut album, first released in 2015 in Europe, by the Ireland-born, now Italy-based Berrill includes covers of classics by Nick Drake, Paul Simon, and Pete Seeger, among others. Still, though her intentions are good, her versions suffer by comparison to the originals, even if they're distinguished by the novel combination of vocals and solo cello. Her attempt at “From the Morning” is passable, but it probably succeeds best as a means by which to redirect Drake neophytes to his catalogue, and it's well nigh impossible to hear her version of “Feelin' Groovy” without it being overshadowed by Simon & Garfunkel's original; further to that, her gentle treatment of Seeger's “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?” could do with a little more gravitas, given the folk song's anti-war sentiments.

Berrill succeeds better when presenting songs less familiar that don't automatically invite the listener to make such comparisons. As a representative example, her rendering of Vincent Courtois's “Between the Bliss and Me” (a bonus live version appears at album's end) invites no such comparison and can thus be broached on its own terms. In this case, a better impression is left, especially when the setting includes a memorable mid-song passage where Berrill doubles the cello with wordless vocalizing. Her gentle rendering of the lullaby-like “For Maupai,” written by jazz musician Almut Schlichting, is also effective.

Her delicate vocal delivery is serviceable but lacks the personality a truly memorable voice possesses, plus a few pitch issues surface now and then. No such qualifications apply to her cello playing, however, which impresses throughout, with Berrill exploiting the full range of the instrument's sound potential, pizzicato and otherwise, in the performances and using multi-tracking judiciously to enhance the presentation.

There are certainly moments that recommend the release. “A New Ground” offers an inspired, Baroque-styled re-imagining of Henry Purcell; her scat-styled treatment brings an imaginative twist to Debussy's “Claire de Lune.” The light-hearted swing of “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” also proves a good match for Berrill's talents, and her heartfelt performance of Sir Samuel Ferguson's “The Lark in the Clear Air” suggests an understandably natural connection to the traditional Irish air. While not every performance might be to one's taste, most listeners should find something to like, given the generous number of songs presented and From the Ground's eclectic range.

October 2017