Album review: Paolo Nutini - Caustic Love

Paolo Nutini. Picture: Contributed
Paolo Nutini. Picture: Contributed
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PAOLO Nutini has always kept company with older folks. As a teenager, he played in bands with more senior musicians, was influenced by his grandfather’s taste in music and acquired a reputation as an old soul even as he was emerging as a reluctant pop star.

Star rating: * * * *

Now aged 27, he has grown into those influences and, five years on from his last multi-platinum adventure, returns with this carefully wrought collection of soulful slowburners. The ghosts of Curtis Mayfield, Sam Cooke and John Martyn all loom large as Nutini ponders his place in his personal circle and the wider world.

Scream (Funk My Life Up), his blues funk hymn to a dream girl, has already achieved pre-release ubiquity but, in the context of the rest of the album, it’s a piece of disposable, pastichey fun. Let Me Down Easy takes its sultry cue from a nicely integrated Bettye LaVette sample, which Nutini treats as an invitation to duet. “We are broken by others but we mend ourselves,” muses our slacker sage before moving on to the challenges of commitment on mellow rhythm’n’blues track Numpty.

Laid-back mood established, Nutini injects a bit of Caledonia soul into brooding ballad Better Man, sitting back comfortably on the soft cushioning provided by his expert players, while the supremely soulful sashay of One Day is a blissful mix of peace and melancholy.

Fashion blatantly borrows the industrial funk groove from the Bowie song of the same name – if you are going to copy, you might as well copy the best – while the psych rock-influenced Cherry Blossom continues the push into new territory. It’s clear by now that Caustic Love is another leap forward for the restless musician after the infectious mixtape approach of Sunny Side Up.

But you ain’t heard nothing yet. Noble centrepiece Iron Sky is an epic six-minute slice of conscious soul, topped with trembling strings, swelling brass, tremolo guitar, ghostly soprano backing vocals and Charlie Chaplin’s resonant, rousing speech from The Great Dictator, which is way ahead of anything Nutini has done to date. Yet he holds that benchmark with Diana, a moody piece of soul funk, the likes of which hasn’t caressed the charts since the heyday of Soul II Soul.

As if allowing the listener time to process what they have just heard, he ends on the simple, direct and utterly lovely doo-wop number Someone Like You. Apparently, this album represents just a fraction of his new material. After this audacious comeback, Nutini can go anywhere he pleases. FIONA SHEPHERD

• Caustic Love is released on 14 April

Randolph’s Leap: Clumsy Knot

Lost Map, web only

Star rating: * * *

Adam Ross, the brains behind Randolph’s Leap, is a quirky Glasgow-based troubadour with a tremulous but inherently characterful nine-stone weakling voice and a seven-piece band at his disposal should he wish to flesh out his DIY ditties with an exultant energy burst – hear the naive News for evidence of how much he and his musicians can fit into 80 seconds. Clumsy Knot will be too twee for some tastes but the cutesiness is mitigated by clever observational lyrics and an innate confidence in the material. Even when Ross frets about the efficacy of his music on Saxophone (relax, there is a sax solo), he does so with a natural wit. FS

Fatherson: I Am An Island

A Modern Way Recordings, £13.99

Star rating: * * *

Fans of anthemic Scots indie rock are already well served by the likes of Frightened Rabbit, but if you really can’t get enough of that chest-beating angst and those swelling wordless choruses, Fatherson are worth checking in with, adding a touch of 1980s Scotpop pomp to the mix on their debut album. When his voice is not being battered on all sides by a blizzard of indie folk bluster, singer Ross Leighton conveys a certain bruised soul, but you will have heard it all before – a touch of anguished falsetto here, and driving rhythms that briskly sweep each track along as though to cover for a lack of overall dynamics. FS

CLASSICAL

Adolphe Blanc: String Quintets, Nos 3, 4 & 7

C2 Hamburg, £14.99

Star rating: * * * *

Adolphe Blanc was a 19th century French violinist and viola player who studied composition under the same teacher as Gounod and Bizet. Among his sizeable canon of chamber music are the three bright and breezy String Quintets recorded here by the Fabergé Quintet. Blanc’s style looks unashamedly back to the Viennese tradition of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. Despite their retro nature, the melodies are fresh and vibrant, the harmonic language imaginative and fluid, and Blanc writes colourfully and idiomatically for this quintet combo of traditional string quartet and double bass. Undeserving of obscurity. KEN WALTON

JAZZ

Tommy Smith & Brian Kellock: Whispering of the Stars

Spartacus Records, £12.99

Star rating: * * * *

Scotland’s two leading jazz musicians renew their occasional duet with a beguiling selection of jazz standards, mostly in ballad mode (and including a lengthy medley of 11 of them in just under nine minutes, each given impeccable attention). Both musicians clearly revel in the melodic and harmonic riches these tunes open up for them, and address the music with respect. While Smith plays across a broader spectrum of styles and genres in other contexts, his tenor saxophone sounds classically gorgeous here, beautifully burnished and warmly expressive in the mould of the greatest ballad interpreters. Pianist Brian Kellock has always been most at home on this kind of material anyway, and his perfectly judged accompaniments and inventive soloing are a joy. The combination has grown even more refined in the gap between this record and its predecessor. KENNY MATHIESON

FOLK

FRASER FIFIELD & GRAEME STEPHEN: ESOTERO

TANAR, web only

Star rating: * * * *

Esotero is apparently a Greek word for “inner” which this genre-confounding pair, regular collaborators for 16 years now, have chosen to reflect their musical dialogue. It may suggest the dauntingly esoteric, but there’s no chin-stroking here as Fifield’s richly mellifluous whistle playing flows in duet with Stephen’s sometimes meditative, sometimes clamorous but always responsive guitar work, the two enmeshed by echoes and flickers of real-time electronic sampling.

Fifield’s shrilling Border pipes, too, signal from the mix, in Up In Smoke or when amid echoing buzzes and blips they answer reverberating guitar in Chase It Catch It – vaunting music for the 21st century. There’s a switch to soprano sax for the lovely Catherine’s Lament, a wistfully plangent air preceded by elemental wailings on reeds and guitar, while The Bank Of Time evolves through mood swings into fierce unison runs of whistle and guitar.

Traditionalists may scratch their heads, but these at times near-free improvisational sketches by two finely balanced musicians have a questing beauty of their own. JIM GILCHRIST

WORLD

Bidas Rustembekov: Kazakh Terme - Sung Poetry of Wisdom

SRH, web only

Star rating: * * * *

“My soul is a flower, my life a garden, my tongue a nightingale / Having all three, each human being will blossom / The life of a person goes from summer to winter” – thus begins one of the poems delivered by this master-singer of the Kazakh epic tradition. Rustembekov sings the songs his father and grandfather sang, some of them stories, some eulogies and some philosophical reflections: the terme (meaning a “threading”) being a key to this ancient culture.

Self-accompanied on the dombra lute, his voice has remarkable versatility and resonance.

MICHAEL CHURCH