Avonmore sounds like it could refer to some mist-wreathed fantasy realm, somewhere south of Avalon.
BRYAN FERRY: AVONMORE
BMG Rights Management
Star rating: ***
Actually, Bryan Ferry’s new album was named after the studio where it was recorded and sounds as comfortable as that might suggest – placing it not so far from Avalon after all.
Having spent a couple of years indulging his love of early 20th-century jazz on previous album The Jazz Age and his contributions to The Great Gatsby soundtrack, Ferry has defaulted to his ultra-smooth lounge lizard guise with another immaculately produced, sonically standardised collection.
Avonmore features guest guitarists Johnny Marr and Nile Rodgers, though you’ll be hard pushed to hear their signature styles anywhere on the album.
Likewise, the influence of Mark Knopfler, Ronnie Spector, Flea and Maceo Parker, who round out the impressive guest list. It’s as if they’ve all been instructed to come dressed in the same meticulously pressed suit as their host.
Opening gambit Loop De Li conjures up instant Ferry with its seamless blend of indolent wah-wah guitar sound and wailing sax, while Midnight Train turns a bluesy sentiment (“midnight train, never coming back”) into a lounge croon.
Ferry sounds much more like a broken man, feebly lamenting “I had the world on a string and I threw it all away” on the Marr co-written Soldier Of Fortune, though the backing is as suavely funky as you might expect.
By Driving Me Wild, you can guess that Ferry won’t be getting too hot under the collar, although the slightly proggy title track almost works up to a sense of urgency, like Pink Floyd with a kick up the backside, before the navel-gazing noodling mood returns on Lost, another introverted blues about being “lost in the middle of the storm”.
One Night Stand is the last of the originals and one for the late-Seventies Roxy Music fan. Its mix of stealthy funk rhythms, retro synthesiser wash, thin, overproduced saxophone and glamorous backing vocals is exactly the kind of thing Duran Duran sought to ape on the Rio album.
But rather than end the cocktail party with this pretty exquisite representation of his style, Ferry tacks on a couple of non-edifying covers – a soporific take on Stephen Sondheim’s Send In The Clowns and a practically inert rendition of Robert Palmer’s Johnny and Mary – by which point, all those classy guests have nodded off on the couch.
Susan Boyle: Hope
Star rating: ***
As expected/written into her contract, Susan Boyle lays on those healing hands again just in time for the Christmas market. Hope is her sixth consecutive stocking filler album to follow the same easy listening formula – tastefully orchestrated MOR pop spirituals adorned with her disarming pure pipes, ranging from the thoroughly obvious – Bridge Over Troubled Water, You Raise Me Up and the all-too-easy-to-imagine version of Imagine – to the welcome curveballs which, on this occasion, comprise Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and gospel country standard Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Elsewhere, she lays down as best she can on O Happy Day and delivers a breathy, haunting a cappella Abide With Me.
One Direction: Four
Star rating: **
Such is their current worldwide standing that One Direction simply need to show up to ensure hysteria. So that’s pretty much what they do on their imaginatively titled fourth album, where they swing dutifully between upbeat, rhythmic numbers such as the perfectly inoffensive boy band pop of Steal My Girl and sensitive guy ballads such as the bland Ed Sheeran-penned 18. With the exception of the New Wavey No Control, Four comes as a safe, pedestrian disappointment following the pastichey pleasure of Midnight Memories. Have 1D sacrificed the boyish fun and embraced their inner man band too soon?
Wilde plays Chopin
Star rating: ****
At almost 80, pianist David Wilde still packs a punch. Minutes into his latest Chopin disc on Delphian, singularity of mind and a weighty challenge to sentimental orthodoxy in Chopin are exercised with uncompromising force. Wilde presents the masculine in the composer, injecting a demonic angst into the C sharp minor Nocturne, epic deliberation in the A flat Polonaise, frenzied heat in the Sonata No 2, and massive colourful vistas into the F minor Fantasie. Occasionally the tone is forced, rupturing the purity of the melodic line. But as a distinctive slant on Chopin – one you’ll love or hate – it’s a hefty and challenging addition to the piano catalogue.
Blue Rose Code: The Ballads Of Peckham Rye
Star rating: ****
William Blake is said to have seen his first angels on Peckham Rye common, and Muriel Spark’s novel, The Ballad of Peckham Rye, concerned the havoc wrought there by a Mephistophelean Scot. This second album by London-based Scots singer-songwriter Ross Wilson, aka Blue Rose Code, spins a real magic of its own with these songs of regret and redemption.
Accompanied by a fine electro-acoustic band, including pivotal bassist Danny Thompson, fiddler Aidan O’Rourke and harpist Rachel Newton, Wilson sings with candid eloquence, from the wry acceptance of A Boscombe Armistice, declared over the sigh of MG Boulter’s pedal steel, to the tightly paced exaltation of Silent Drums or his beguiling reworking of a Norman MacCaig poem, True Ways of Knowing, with its affirmative chanting and orchestrated hand-clapping.
Trumpeter Colin Steele and pianist Dave Milligan crank up the soul in Where Westlin Winds do Carry Me, Edina is a wistful evocation of home from abroad, while the closing Step Eleven steers us off in a sublime cosmic drift.
Michael Mantler: The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Update
Star rating: ***
The trumpeter and composer revisits The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, his ground-breaking recording from 1968, this time with the addition of previously unrecorded material from that period. The original album featured a stellar cast of luminaries from the avant-garde wing of contemporary jazz, but this time he has returned to his native Vienna to work with the Nouvelle Cuisine Big Band, a new European ensemble directed by Christoph Cech, and the radio.string.quartet.vienna, with himself and guitarist Bjarne Roupé as the principal soloists. The big band employs a similar instrumentation to the original unit, and Mantler has repeated the convention of numbering his compositions, all entitled Update rather than Communications this time. His often radical new take on the music and his ongoing explorations in integrating notation and improvisation have lost little of their experimental edge or invention.
Moipei Quartet: In the Land of the Lion
Arc Music 2455
Star rating: ***
The Moipei triplets, Mary, Marta and Magdalene and their younger sister Seraphine were trained by their parents to sing from the age of two, and as a quartet they make a very sweet sound. The first ever UNICEF child ambassadors from their native Kenya, they aim to promote the rights of children throughout Africa, and their a cappella repertoire is very eclectic. Themes of praise and worship are the keynote, but their four-part harmonies take in songs from many parts of the world: from Panis Angelicus and Veni Sanctus Spiritus to Amazing Grace, The Day Thou Gavest Lord is Ended, and The Little Brown Church in the Vale.