Album reviews: Annie Lennox | Aidan John Moffat

Annie Lennox. Picture: Getty
Annie Lennox. Picture: Getty
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OUR music critics cast their eye over the latest releases by Annie Lennox, Arethra Franklin, Aidan John Moffat and Jessie J, plus new albums from the worlds of classical, jazz and folk

Annie Lennox: Nostalgia

Island

Rating: * * *

Arethra Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics

RCA

Rating: * *

It’s diva week. Two of our greatest female singers return with new albums of old songs. At ages 59 and 72 respectively, Annie Lennox (inset) and Aretha Franklin are in no mood to push the boat out creatively, although Lennox at least tackles jazz for the first time, while the diva nonpareil sticks to pop hits by lesser divas.

Nostalgia is loaded with blues and jazz standards from the 1930s and 1940s, stone classics by Hoagy Carmichael, Gershwin, Duke Ellington, some relating to the civil rights movement. Lennox immediately sells the material short with that lame album title, though she does at least manage to avoid a rheumy-eyed big band cash-in. The arrangements are tasteful and spare enough to ensure the spotlight is on Lennox’s full-bodied voice.

Apart from a certain vocal class, there is not much Lennox can add to yet another pop interpretation of Summertime though she does succeed in creating a dignified and dreamy atmosphere. Often, however, her delivery lacks the light and shade which such sophisticated songs warrant. Her take on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ marvellously demented I Put a Spell on You is neither mesmerising, spooky nor threatening. She plays it totally trad on I Cover the Waterfront, accompanied by glorious mute trumpet, brushed snare drum, languid piano and romantic strings, then takes her time painting the horrific picture of Strange Fruit before overdoing that other Billie Holiday standard God Bless the Child.

Franklin’s tour through the diva songbook is even more predictable – I’m Every Woman is hardly a stretch for Rolling Stone magazine’s Greatest Singer of All Time, though her cover of Adele’s Rolling in the Deep has understandably piqued curiosity. She overdoes the gospel delivery (have mercy Aretha!), then trashes the exercise with a cheesy segue into an over-produced Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.

The tacky medleys continue – a straight take on I Will Survive is conflated with Destiny’s Child’s Survivor, a burst of Respect is tagged on to I’m Every Woman. She completely overeggs the wonderful Midnight Train to Georgia; worse is to follow with a horrible scat version of Nothing Compares 2 U, produced by Andre 3000 of Outkast, and a reggaefied rendition of Alicia Keys’ No One. Teach Me Tonight comes as a welcome oasis of (relatively) understated class on a collection which otherwise seems determined to take its place in the blaring contemporary pop market. FIONA SHEPHERD

POP

Aidan John Moffat: Vagrants _09_14

aidanjohnmoffat.bandcamp.com

Rating: * * *

This digital-only collection of intriguing odds, sods and whistling from the urbane ex-Arab Strap man covers diverse ground and typically documentary subject matter. Morning Song is a (literally) chirpy murder ballad of sorts and The World Around Us a malcontented spoken word reflection with a positive, tolerant flipside. The best songs come from other writers – a slow waltz version of I Got You Babe and the lo-fi electro calypso Monkey Talk are novel, while Moffat’s respectful cover of Glenn Campbell’s Love is Not a Game is just a delight. FS

Jessie J: Sweet Talker

LAVA/Republic

Star rating: * *

Jessie J’s third album jumps off the blocks making all the rather manic noises – clipped beats, slick rock guitar, a dash of reggae and hip-hop – common to many current pop productions. Burnin’ Up is all frenetic sass and very little song, while recent single Bang Bang leaves just enough room for her to unleash a couple of fussy, show-off vocal riffs even as guest rapper Nicki Minaj just about walks off with the whole track. It’s all pretty frantic for a time but gradually the pace slows, allowing space for some old school laidback funk (De La Soul collaboration Seal Me With a Kiss) and Mariah Carey-style power balladry. FS

CLASSICAL

Ingrid Fliter: Chopin Preludes

LINN: CKD475

Star rating: * * * *

If there’s a sense of relaxed finesse running through Ingrid Fliter’s new release of the 24 Chopin Preludes, there’s also a wild and wonderful range of expressive nuance, from the peace and placidity of the

F sharp major Prelude, for instance, to the lightning brilliance of the G sharp minor, and the whirlwind brevity of the E flat minor. Fliter elicits all their respective characters with a poetic touch and engaging charm. The piano tone on this recording is occasionally harsh, even mushy at times, but overall it’s a delight.

KEN WALTON

JAZZ

Jim Hart’s Cloudmakers Trio: Abstract Forces

Whirlwind Recordings

Star rating: * * * *

Jim Hart has done much to restore the vibraphone to a place at the top table in UK jazz, and if the instrument is not likely to usurp piano (or percussion) anytime soon, it remains a distinctive voice in the jazz armoury.

It helps when it is played with Hart’s dexterity and musical awareness, and all the more so when his collaborators – bassist Michael Janisch, the man behind this now indispensable record label, and drummer Dave Smith – are able to negotiate his sinuous melodies and quicksilver rhythmic deviations in such empathic fashion.

They slip into more overtly abstract territory on Post Stone, but in general Hart’s compositions combine structural complexity with attractive listenability. It is a powerful combination, and the inventive soloing and intricate interplay between the three instruments is both absorbing and consistently engaging.

KENNY MATHIESON

FOLK

SUSAN MCKEOWN: BELONG

EAST RIVER MUSIC

Star rating: * * * *

The Grammy-winning McKeown, Irish-born and United States-based, has long established herself as a creative spirit in both traditional and contemporary realms, collaborating with such diverse talents as the late Scots fiddler Johnny Cunningham and the Klezmatics.

Here she presents a clutch of her own often short but eloquent cameos of bittersweet life and love, her deeply expressive singing nicely matched by a spare but spot-on ensemble of guitars, keyboards, bass and percussion and (as in Our Texas) just an occasional echo of electric twang.

She sings with controlled and tremulous passion, whether in the big, open-hearted sentiments of The Cure, or the short, sharp and heartbreakingly reproachful Delph, an innate Irishness in its melody, its subject a bleak snapshot of social tragedy.

The title song is a cue for some country-gospel-ish chorusing and she all but yodels the deceptively upbeat Fallen Angel. In contrast comes the wryly reflective Patience, while her wonderfully world-weary Lullaby of Manhattan lurches along to a louche snare drum.

JIM GILCHRIST

WORLD

Male Voices of Fado

EUCD 2523

Star rating: * * * *

These days we are so used to thinking about ‘queens’ of fado that we forget that it’s actually as much a male art-form as a female one. So here is a fine array of contemporary kings, plus two of the great departed. One of those is Max (1918-1980), whose day-job was as a tailor, but who became a transatlantic sensation as a fadisto in the late Fifties. The other is Alfredo Marceneiro (1891-1982) who started out as a carpenter, but was soon launched into orbit by the ravishingly beautiful sound we get here.

MICHAEL CHURCH