Album reviews: Dave Stewart | Foster the People | Gillian Welch | Classical | Jazz | Folk | World

Our critics review some ot the best and worst of this week's new releases...


Dave Stewart: The Blackbird Diaries

Weapons of Mass Entertainment/Surfdog Records, 12.99 **

Everyone else is rediscovering the joys of vintage equipment and the magic of recording in Nashville, so why can't Dave Stewart? The Blackbird Diaries is named after the studio where the album was recorded in five days, producing pedestrian Dylanesque roots-rocking results which suffer in comparison to similarly conceived exercises such as Elvis Costello's Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. The songwriting quality is patchy and Stewart's unlovable voice is repeatedly shown up by his guest vocalists. The Secret Sisters lend some swooning siren backing to the pavement caf sway of One Way Ticket To The Moon, Martina McBride brings some class to the brooding All Messed Up while Stevie Nicks colludes in the sentimentality of plodding country ballad Cheaper Than Free.

Foster the People: Torches

Columbia, 10.99 ***

Bright, breezy indie pop trios are blooming all over the United States right now where, apparently, they have been known to enjoy the occasional ray of sunshine. So no sooner have the soaring hooklines of Chicago's Smith Westerns finally faded to background volume than LA's Foster the People arrive with more oh-so-accessible chirpy pop hoodoo sung by girly boys and guaranteed to keep you awake at night. Debut album Torches sounds not a million miles away from their labelmates MGMT but with the psychedelic strain diluted by an electro pop veneer. The indie disco of Houdini and the whistling hook of their breakthrough melodic mantra Pumped Up Kicks may not constitute a brave new musical dawn but they could keep you going through the grim summer drizzle.

Gillian Welch : The Harrow and the Harvest

Warner Brothers, 12.99 ****

Although Gillian Welch has guested on numerous projects and continues to tour with her partner David Rawlings, The Harrow & The Harvest is her first album in eight years, the reason for that interval being that she was not miserable enough to write songs that were good enough to meet her exacting standards. Her template remains unchanged on this long awaited return: classic mountain music is etched out with the barest of instrumentation and delivered with a fatalistic languor. The sensuality of Dark Turn Of Mind, the lush, dreamy harmonic haze of The Way It Will Be and the wry resignation of The Way It Goes are among the more upbeat selections on an album which walks a dark path without ever bearing down on the listener. FIONA SHEPHERD


John Adams: Son of Chamber Symphony / String Quartet

Nonesuch, 12.99 ****

Schoenberg defined the concept of the modern chamber symphony, echoed by Berg in his Chamber Concerto. In more recent times John Adams picked up the thread with his own Chamber Symphony, only to follow it up with the enchantingly titled Son of Chamber Symphony. Played here by the International Contemporary Ensemble, the latter smacks of the same fresh-minted energy as its predecessor. Adams' fingerprint is unmistakable and intoxicating, from the jazzy minimalism of the opening to the sharp seams of lyricism that pervade its irrepressible momentum. The String Quartet, written for and performed here by the St Lawrence String Quartet offers, in counterbalance, Adams in less effusive mode. KENNETH WALTON


Pat Metheny: What's It All About

Nonesuch, 12.99 ***

A decade on from his only previous excursion into solo acoustic guitar on disc, this album has the distinction of being Metheny's first recording made up entirely of other people's songs. It is a somewhat nostalgic exercise, drawing on a diverse selection of tunes that had some special but undisclosed significance for him as a child and teenager, recorded late at night in his home. The laid-back ambience exactly reflects that circumstance, as does the rich, mellow sonority of the baritone guitar he employs on seven of the ten selections. The exceptions are a deftly shimmering account of The Sound of Silence on the 42-string Pikasso guitar, the 1960s surf hit Pipeline on conventional six-string, and The Beatles' And I Love Her on classical guitar. His interpretations are characteristically thoughtful and beautifully played, if perhaps a little too personal and self-indulgent. KENNY MATHIESON


Songs & Ballands from Perthshire Field Recordings of the 1950s

Greentrax, 11.99 ****

Recorded by the industrious Maurice Fleming back in the days when traveller folk still converged on "the berry fields of Blair" for seasonal labour, this album in the School of Scottish Studies' Scottish Tradition series reminds us of the immense song store of the travellers, delivered here sometimes in rough-hewn tones but frequently with striking poise and consideration of often timeless material.

It opens with Belle Stewart BEM, matriarch of the "Stewarts of Blair", singing the classic Bogie's Bonnie Belle, followed by her daughter, Sheila, but also includes many less familiar voices, such as a movingly measured (and surprisingly youthful-sounding) telling of Jamie Foyers by Willie MacPhee, a powerful rendering of Banks of Red Roses from Ruby Kelbie and a rumbustious delivery of The Tinker's Waddin by Willie Townsley. Many of these voices are now silent, rendering recordings such as these doubly invaluable. JIM GILCHRIST

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