Album review: Agnetha | Eagleowl | Cristina Branco

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Agnetha: A

Polydor, £14.99

**

As David Bowie and Kate Bush both know, nothing will stoke the legend more effectively than radio silence. Former Abba frontwoman Agnetha Fältskog acquired the status of reclusive enigma simply by opting for a life of private domesticity, so her first album of original material in 25 years is a big deal for serious Abbamaniacs. But for your common or garden music fan, it’s best overlooked. Fältskog’s familiar crystal clarity of diction is present and pure on a selection of strictly middle of the road material, tastefully garnished with lush string arrangements, pristine production and a soupcon of sadness. Gary Barlow, the 21st-century Richard Carpenter, duets on the mid-paced I Should’ve Followed You Home before Agnetha takes a polite twirl around the dancefloor on the disco-tinged Dance Your Pain Away.

Eagleowl: This Silent Year

Fencerecords.com

**

Fence Homegame stalwarts, sometime Pictish Trail backing band and dedicated slowcore ensemble eagleowl (none of your shouty capital letters here, please) finally release their debut album, and it’s a lower case world, characterised by quiet, delicacy and restraint.

It requires a certain nerve to produce a work which is so relentlessly snail-paced and downbeat. Low lead the field here; eagleowl are some way off in terms of writing ability, often relying on their arrangements to create interest and texture in lieu of a song – the strings are held in a holding pattern on Forgetting, but free to soar soulfully on eagleowl vs woodpigeon. There is a chirpy number struggling to get out of It’s So Funny, but don’t even think about telling them to cheer up.

• Fiona Shepherd

JS Bach: Double & Triple Concertos

Channel Classics, £15.99

*****

There’s something about Bach – the sheer natural flow and inevitability of his music – that hits the spot any mood, any time of the day. Then there’s the sheer pleasure that comes from such polished, style-defined, historically informed performances as these by violinist Rachel Podger and her hand-picked Brecon Baroque ensemble, who relish every phrase and nuance, wrapping them up in such exquisite interpretations as this gorgeous album of double and triple Bach concertos.

The best known is the famous D minor Concerto for Two Violins, equally possessive here of rich affection and flirtatious dynamism.

In the lesser-known concertos that accompany it, Bach aficionados will spot the composer’s various self-borrowings, familiar music redressed in silkier frills.

• Ken Walton

John Goldie and the Acoustic Unit: Chocolate Maze

Watercolourmusic.co.uk

****

Reviewing this under “folk” is stretching things slightly. Master guitarist John Goldie, here in the company of Highland music stalwarts Angus Lyon on accordion and keyboards and bassist Duncan Lyall, plus drummer Jim Drummond, careers across genres with gleeful abandon, opening with a flourish of Lyons’s accordion for the European-sounding Too Close to the Campfire and tailing off with a perky reprise of the slightly cod Americana of Line Trance.

In between, Goldie, playing mainly but not entirely acoustic guitars, gives the impression of thoroughly enjoying himself, whether in the sassy bossa of Road Trip, the near ambient languor of the title track, the waspish guitar lines and bluesy shuffle of MacFerry or the unabashed rock guitar strains of Sting in the Tail. In contrast, my own favourite is the easeful drift and sweetly whining note-bending of Here and Now.

• Jim Gilchrist

Ketil Bjørnstadt: La Notte

ECM Records, £14.99

****

This is a live recording from the Molde Jazz Festival of the Norwegian pianist’s homage to the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, featuring a stellar ensemble comprising saxophonist Andy Sheppard, guitarist Eivind Aarset, bassist Arild Andersen, percussionist Marilyn Mazur and the very effectively employed cello of Anja Lechner.

Bjørnstadt’s familiar trademarks are all in place – hauntingly impressionistic melodies, spare but intricate harmonic developments and a strong sense of narrative structure underpinning the music. The eight numbered sections cover a wide spectrum of shifting mood and tempo, and while the focus is often on a subtle textural interweaving of the instruments, he provides opportunity for strong soloing from his band of leaders in their own right, including Sheppard’s tenor on part three and soprano outings on parts four and seven. The latter piece also features powerful solos from Anderson and Aarset.

• Kenny Mathieson

Cristina Branco: Live in Amsterdam, Netherlands

ARC, £7.99

****

Nice to hear the pleasurable buzz of conversation before the Portuguese guitar spreads its perfumed haze in the opening piece – played here with singular force by Branco’s supporting artist Custodio Castelo.

This recording from 1997 may now sound dated – Branco introduces the fado form as though her audience have never heard of it – and its liner notes are pathetically inadequate: all the record company has done is transplant the original liner notes, which tell us nothing about the songs’ lyrics or provenance. But though she seems to have dropped out of the international spotlight for the time being, her artistry is as refined as any in the business, and her voice has infinitely more charm than those of the singers now vying meretriciously for the title “Queen of Fado”. She and Castelo pace each song – many of them written by him, and in a freer style than the traditional one – with irresistible grace.

Maria Ana Bobone: Fado and Piano

ARC, £7.99

****

This younger singer has no such pretentions, and what she does is unusual. She has decided to go back to fado’s early 20th-century roots, when it was taken up by the rich aristocracy and performed in private houses with piano accompaniment 
and as she is herself a fine pianist, she looks after that function too.

This means that the Portuguese guitar occupies a subordinate role which it shares with the bass, thus making up the instrumental trio. Bobone’s artistry is more delicate than Branco’s, and her pacing of the songs is gentler. Some of the songs are her own compositions – notably Auto-retrato (self-portrait), and Imagem which she wrote at 18 and describes as a pop song with that essential fado ingredient, saudade. But others are timeless classics, like Que Deus me perdone which was sung by Amalia Rodrigues, the once and for all-time true Queen of Fado.

• Michael Church

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