Gill Manly - With A Song in My Heart - The Times

Gill who? Until a decade or so ago, Gill Manly was a familiar face, a versatile singer who - like her friends Barb Jungr and Ian Shaw - could skip between blues, jazz and pop and who had built an impressive reputation as a teacher and all-round ideas machine. Serious illness then interrupted her career, and her devotion to Buddhism carried her off on a different path all together.

Now she is back with an album that is easily one of the best vocal efforts of the past 12 months. With a Song in my Heart is a desperately old-hat title, to be honest, and the bland cover photograph of the artist, microphone in hand, is not likely to stop many punters in their tracks. It is only when you delve deeper that you truly sense the level of sophistication. It is, perhaps, the sort of record that can only have been made by someone who has done her share of living. Lush Life is the ultimate test, and Manly passes it in style.

Her Soho date was a slightly more easy-going affair, the singer - who now walks with a cane - remaining seated for the most part as her band, directed by that understated pianist Simon Wallace, blew an unpretentious path through songs from the album. Guy Barker stepped up to add peppery trumpet obbligatos.

It was not all torch songs. Manly let rip on I Ain't Got Nothing But the Blues and swung gently on Sittin' and a Rockin', the drummer Ralph Salmins and bassist Mark Hodgson setting up a nonchalant pulse.

If the choice of material was conceived as a homage to Ella Fitzgerald, the finished product bears the stamp of Manly's own personality. Her performance, particularly on Midnight Sun and Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most, had an intensity that made the work of many of her younger rivals seem callow by comparison.

04 February 2008