CD OF THE WEEK
Rough Trade, RTRADCD371, 10.99
Super Furry Animals alpha male Gruff is one of the UK's most potent performers whichever language he may be singing in, and his second solo record is more considered and satisfying than its occasionally flippant predecessor.
'Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru' is a piece of superior bubblegum pop that would make the Flaming Lips proud, reverberating with retro studio effects and a chorus that will follow you around for the rest of the day, while 'Ffrwydriad Yn Y Ffurfafen' is a tasty slice of Celtic psychedelic mysticism driven by Spanish guitars, one of the album's instrumental hallmarks. They transform 'Lonesome Words' from wistful folksy contemplation into something much more affecting, further substantiated in the second half of the song by Sean O'Hagen's invigorating string arrangements, the album's other key musical element. The strings also provide classy decorative frills on the charming title track.
Gruff's forthcoming appearances in Scotland as part of the Triptych Festival climaxing a solo UK tour should be one of 2007's first musical highpoints.
ROCK & POP
Showgirl Homecoming Live
EMI 3853312, 12.99
A very fast turnaround of this 27-song career-spanning set, recorded at the opening night of her homecoming shows in Sydney less than two months ago, this double CD is as much a tribute to her determination as anything else.
Kylie's successful battle with breast cancer is perhaps more inspiring than the record which, deprived of the visual element, lacks the necessary impact to create a lasting impression. Continuing to perform 'The Locomotion' cover which marked her Stock, Aitken and Waterman-produced transformation into bubblegum pop princess is a move that loses its irony in the process.
Saving graces are 'Where The Wild Roses Grow' from the Nick Cave-duetting, Michael Hutchence-dating era, and of course, the daddy of dance tunes 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head'.
Red Ink 82876867032, 10.99
This Galway girl has no less than three master's degrees, plays 10 instruments and has now made her debut album.
Original and arresting, with her voice stretched out over instrumentation that is clearly unconventional by pop standards, it is not difficult to see how 13 Songs won the Choice Music Prize Irish Album of 2006.
From the vaguely asthmatic woodwind wheezing in the charming 'Wind Out Of My Sails', on through the quaint chamber refrains of 'Fictitious Richard', to the stark yet sumptuous piano-backed 'Under My Skin', this rips up the female singer-songwriter rule book. A grandly intimate listening experience.
Le Chant du Monde 274 1453 54, 7.99
One of a series of double CDs compiled by two top French jazz critics, this is a chronological collection of numbers by the boy wonder of the 1920s. Cornettist Bix Beiderbecke is heard here at his most lyrical, wistful and swinging best. All the classic tracks are included, and you'd be hard-pushed to find anything more moving or exquisite than his iconic solos on 'I'm Coming Virginia', 'Singin' The Blues' and 'Cryin' All Day'.
Greentrax CDTRAX304, 12.99
One of Scotland's most appealingly distinctive and danceable outfits, the group eschews the usual Scots trad dance band sound, exploring looser textures in a much more contemporary 'folk' feel. Fiddler Gavin Marwick and accordionist Gregor Lowrey pump out finger-bending tunes amid the quicksteps, marches or down-tempo numbers, sometimes French Canadian or American hoe-down, but always with toe-tapping style.
Isaac Albniz: Pepita Jimnez
DG 477 6234, 22.99
Placido Domingo's commitment to reviving the operas of Isaac Albniz here results in something of an oddity: an opera based on a Spanish novel by a Spanish composer, sung in English.
It has its faults: Francis Money-Coutts, heir to the Coutts banking fortune, became its librettist largely by bankrolling Albniz to set his own poetry to music, and his text is laboured. Albniz makes things more complicated: he creates tune upon delightful tune, then has his cast sing against the music throughout. One for Albniz fans.