Album review: Kelis - Food

Kelis' new album, Food, on Ninja Tune. Picture: Contributed
Kelis' new album, Food, on Ninja Tune. Picture: Contributed
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DESPITE flying out of the starting blocks in 1999 with the rancorous Caught Out There, Kelis Rogers has proved too much of a non-con­formist to really shoot for the mass market.

Kelis: Food

Ninja Tune, £13.99

Star rating: * * * *

“I became a runner to ­escape the fame,” she sings on Food, her aptly named sixth album.

In 2008, she celebrated her extrication from a rotten record deal by enrolling in Cordon Bleu culinary school. Since then she has launched her own range of sauces and piloted a cookery show on television in the United States.

Last month, she launched this ­album by taking her own food truck to the South By South West festival.

The album is replete with food-themed song titles and, thanks in large part to the eclectic tastes of producer Dave Sitek – the hipster Mark Ronson – has turned out as something of a musical gumbo, ­featuring African brass, Indian strings, strutting blues and expressive use of male and female backing vocals in the mix.

Kelis claims that “everything is better either smothered or poured”. Fortunately, she is talking sauces, not music. Sonically, she and Sitek don’t overload the table. Some of the more effective numbers are shrewd in their use of dynamics, spotlighting her husky, pained voice in the bare verses and saving the tasty embellishments for the uplifting chorus, as on Breakfast, where she ­expresses the hopeful intention that “maybe we’ll make it to breakfast”.

Despite the potential for lots of food-metaphor suggestiveness, the singer who once claimed “my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard” keeps it classy, restrained and inherently sexy on sultry slow jam Floyd, with its understated organ and ­satisfying blend of twinkling tenor and sustained baritone brass.

The single Jerk Ribs is even tastier with its soulful melody wedded to a fiendish snaking bassline and Afrobeat horns. These guys sure know how to blend their ingredients.

Then just when you think you have the measure of Food’s flavours, the mood changes in the middle with a lovely cover of Labi Siffre’s Bless The Telephone which stays true to the simple spirit of the original with undulating acoustic guitar and Kelis’s warm delivery of the lyrics.

It has been said that Food is not an R&B album. Maybe not as we understand the label now.

But, like Janelle Monae, Kelis harks back to old school rhythm’n’blues without playing the retro card and serves up some fine soul food ­instead. FIONA SHEPHERD

Ben Watt: Hendra

Unmade Road, £14.99

Star rating: * * * *

Ben Watt probably didn’t intend to take 30 years to follow up his debut solo album but he’s been distracted with Everything But The Girl, DJing, independent label-running and his burgeoning writing career. Hendra doesn’t pay much mind to what has happened in music since the release of North Marine Drive in 1983, nodding instead to the likes of John Martyn and Gerry Rafferty in its mellow blend of folk, jazz and soul. Bernard Butler’s languorous, bluesy guitar work complements the intimacy of Watt’s vocals, while Dave Gilmour’s tranquil style, instantly recognisable on The Levels, is a soothing guest companion to his wistful musings. FS

Two Wings: A Wake

Tin Angel, £13.99

Star rating: * * * *

Glasgow-based Two Wings, founded on the songwriting partnership of Hanna Tuulikki (Nalle/Scatter) and Ben Reynolds (Trembling Bells), offer a bold folk-rock fusion in the freewheeling tradition of Fleetwood Mac and Fairport Convention with a bonus hint of patchouli-scented mysticism. A Wake, their second album, is a strong collective effort but the star attraction is Tuulikki’s quirky child-woman soprano, which she unleashes with flirtatious abandon on You Give Me Love. The hey-nonny We Can Show You More, meanwhile, is sufficiently eccentric to sound like something Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel might have got up to in the late 70s. FIONA SHEPHERD

CLASSICAL

Carl Orff: Carmina Burana

LPO, £9.99

Star rating: * * *

Put a sensible conductor in front of a decent choir, orchestra and soloists and there’s not a lot that should go wrong with Carl Orff’s flagrant cantata Carmina Burana. Sure enough, Hans Graf guides the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir through these well-worn pages with driven diligence, and the raw excitement of Orff’s music speaks

for itself. The rhythms are clean and crisp, the orchestral playing warm, opulent and alert, the choral singing disciplined and efficient. Added character comes from the Trinity Boys (over-ambient in Amor volat) and a solo line-up that includes the reliable Andrew Kennedy and ripe soprano voice of Sarah Tynan. KEN WALTON

FOLK

Martin Green: Crows’ Bones

Reveal Records, £9.99

Star rating: * * *

Lau’s accordion wizard Martin Green goes gothic in this darkly atmospheric excursion through the supernatural, based on a commission from Opera North. His core collaborators are singers Becky Unthank and Inge Thomson, with Niklas Roswall adding shadowy strains of the nyckelharpa or keyed fiddle. The overall effect is gloriously spooky, as ominously booming bass strokes and sonorous squeezebox invoke something akin to overdosing on MR James. Traditional songs such as the Lyke Wake Dirge and the Three Ravens mingle with contemporary material, although Unthank’s unremittingly dirge-like intonation combined with Thomson’s waif-like tones can be wearing after a while. A choice picking (I use the term advisedly) is I Saw the Dead, featuring such cheery lines as “We will be thankful and we will be fed/ You take the torso and I’ll take the head”, and ending with a calliope-like fairground danse macabre that would gladden the heart of Ray Bradbury. Where was the late Vincent Price when they needed him? JIM GILCHRIST

Jazz

Phronesis: Life

Edition Records, £13.99

Star rating: * * * *

Plato is an unusual source for a jazz record title, but Phronesis are an unusual band. The Anglo-Danish trio featuring bassist Jasper Høiby (named recently as one of the mentors in this year’s Young Scottish Jazz Musician competition in June), pianist Ivo Neame and drummer Anton Eger have built a considerable reputation for their exhilarating live performances, and now follow four studio albums with their first disc recorded in concert, drawing on three nights at the Cockpit during last November’s London Jazz Festival.

The improvisational prowess, creative energy and intense group interplay familiar from those studio albums are equally evident here, but cranked up a notch with the additional spark and spontaneity provided by the live environment. Each musician contributes three compositions to the disc, and their original writing is as powerful and complex as their playing. KENNY MATHIESON

WORLD

Rough Guide to the Music of Mali

Rough Guides, £9.99

Star rating: * * * *

This CD is very timely, given what has recently been happening in this North African country. Al-Qaeda has established bases in the north, and, invoking a skewed interpretation of the Koran, has tried to impose a ban on all music, even driving the celebrated Festival of the Desert – led by that celebrated human rights campaigner, the singer Oumou Sangare – into exile. Sangare is one of a glittering throng of Malian stars to be heard here, including Bassekou Kouyate, Fatoumata Diawara, Vieux Farka Toure, Ali Farka Toure, and Toumani Diabate. MICHAEL CHURCH