POP DOLLY PARTON: BACKWOODS BARBIE ***
DOLLY RECORDS, 17.99
FOLLOWING her successful review of her bluegrass roots on her last three albums, the awesome Dolly Parton returns to mainstream country with Backwoods Barbie, an album conceived to celebrate the Dolly brand in all its superficially naff but emotionally resonant glory. In addition to some textbook country melodrama, rollicking honky-tonk, brazen Nashville gospel tracks and the insight that "I'm not the Dalai Lama", she covers Tracks of My Tears and, bizarrely, Fine Young Cannibals' She Drives Me Crazy. Although not her greatest selection of songs, this album is worth buying for the "Shack Dweller's Monthly" Readers' Wives-style pics in the CD booklet, then worth savouring for that priceless voice.
BAUHAUS: GO AWAY WHITE ****
COOKING VINYL, 11.99
LIKE their rare reunion shows last year, Bauhaus's first new material in a quarter of a century is thoroughly pretentious, self-consciously theatrical, occasionally ridiculous and often wonderful. Song titles such as Endless Summer of the Damned suggest these gothic pioneers are still refusing to look on the cheery side. Instead, the years roll back in time to their lean, prowling rhythms. Bowie and Iggy are still blatant influences, but Bauhaus themselves have influenced many lesser acts who are still trying to perfect that disturbed, claustrophobic guitar sound which is revisited here as intensely as ever.
MALCOLM MIDDLETON: SLEIGHT OF HEART ***
FULL TIME HOBBY, 8.99
FRESH from not quite managing to pull the Christmas No 1 carpet from under the feet of X Factor's Leon, ex-Arab Strap man Malcolm Middleton unleashes another little gem of an album, this one largely acoustic with some folky violin arrangements. Most of the six originals here date from the same writing period as last year's A Brighter Beat, so expect a wallow in Middleton's usual emotional gamut, from ambivalence (Week Off) to unequivocal self-flagellation (Total Belief, featuring the disclosure that "it only takes some pasta to remind me of my total belief in the depth of my unworthiness").
KENNETH FUCHS: CANTICLE TO THE SUN ***
THERE'S a trend among today's American composers to write music that is modern-sounding but easy on the ear. Perhaps Hollywood has something to do with it, or simply that Americans are maybe a bit more conservative in their outlook. Kenneth Fuch's music – he is in his early 50s – has that inoffensive trait. From sounds that have their roots in the expansive soundscapes of Copland and his mildly angular lyricism, Fuchs constructs delicately effusive scores, several of which, for varying ensembles, appear in this attractive survey of his music. It's part of Naxos's illuminating American Classics series, and features all and parts of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) under the direction of JoAnn Falletta. The full ensemble opens the disc with one of the composer's most recent orchestral works – United Artists – and ends it with a horn concerto, Canticle to the Sun, specifically written for the LSO's Timothy Jones and based on the traditional hymn tune to All Creatures of Our God and King. Both underline the darting filmic qualities of Fuch's style, a restless energy that combines virtuosity and clarity of texture with softness of touch. In many ways, though, the most interesting sounds appear in the reflective Quiet in the Land, Autumn Rhythm and Fire, Ice and Summer Bronze, all written for smaller chamber ensembles, which glow with inner warmth. An attractive disc from a very listenable composer.
HAFLII HALLGRMSON: METAMORPHOSES ****
THE title of this CD stems from the title of a work dedicated to a former SCO colleague, the late John Tunnell. Metamorphoses, for piano trio, is typical of Hallgrmson's quietly intense style. In this recording, the Fidelio Trio – pianist Mary Dullea, violinist Darragh Morgan and cellist Robin Michael – capture its delicate shades and mournful undertones to rewarding ends. Two other significant works complete this wholesome disc. Matthew Jones (viola) presents the Notes from a Diary for viola and piano with incisive and dynamic perception; Morgan and Dullea evoke lustrous qualities in the Seven Epigrams for violin and cello. This is a fascinating reminder that the Icelandic former SCO cellist, now full-time composer, has long based himself in Edinburgh.
HORACE SILVER: LIVE AT NEWPORT '58 ****
BLUE NOTE RECORDS, 12.99
THE indefatigable Michael Cuscuna unearthed the master tapes of this previously unreleased performance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival in the Columbia vaults. Their 45-minute set was captured in very good sound, and is a must for fans of hard bop. It features a quintet with the fine Clifford Brown-influenced trumpeter Louis Smith, a seriously under-recorded musician whose place would shortly be taken by Blue Mitchell in what became the pianist's longest-running quintet with the rest of this band, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor and drummer Louis Hayes. It may have been a new line-up, but it clearly clicked into gear from the outset, and the four long tracks – Tippin, The Outlaw, Cool Eyes and his big hit of the time, Seor Blues – allow them to stretch out with greater freedom than was usual in the recording studio.
BOX CLUB: BOX CLUB ****
FOUR of Scotland's best young accordionists – John Somerville, Angus Lyon, Mairearad Green and Gary Innes – in one band with no other lead instrument may sound like overkill, but Box Club find plenty of interest and variety. All of the players have roots in traditional music, but the driving rhythmic accompaniments on guitar, bass and drums add to the music's high-energy contemporary edge. The box players are an impressively virtuoso bunch, but even at their most fiery the interplay of the instruments on the largely self-composed material is often subtle and intricate. Box-phobes and strict traditionalists may wince at some of the directions they are exploring, but Box Club's swashbuckling approach may win new converts.
ZEGAR ZIVI – CLOUD VALLEY *****
CLOUD VALLEY MUSIC, 11.99
THE story behind this bewitching record begins with veteran field-recordist Andrew Cronshaw deciding to track down and record a charismatic singer named Svetlana Spajic, who introduced him to some refugee singers who had returned to their shattered Croatian village and were eking out a precarious living with their sheep and goats.
Made round a kitchen table, or in the open air, or in a town hall on whose ringing acoustic the musicians inventively capitalise, these recordings have a wonderful immediacy. Using call-and-response, they deliver love songs and ring dances. One track, consisting simply of rhymed toasts, ushers in others which were recorded at a feast, radiating an infectious joie de vivre. The most magical track of all consists of the sounds of a flock of sheep and goats and their shepherds' cries.
It's remarkable this music should have survived both civil war and the insidious "disco folk" of the 1980s. Cronshaw's hope is that he may now raise its international profile.