The Scotsman’s music critics review the latest album releases
Corinne Bailey Rae brazenly keeps company with some primo jazz talent on her new album (**). She is joined by Esperanza Spalding, bassist Marcus Miller (Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock) and drummer James Gadson (Bill Withers, Quincy Jones) for a mostly old-fashioned cocktail lounge soul session, wrapped in a brassy comfort blanket. The likes of Green Aphrodisiac aspire to some Minnie Riperton-style rapturous trip, the kind of 70s easy listening jazz funk which might once have soundtracked a Midori advert. But better this characterful anachronism than the bland, mid-paced pop of Stop Where You Are, which could be any of her bland contemporaries wisping away.
Randolph’s Leap are certainly not short on distinctive personality, being a breezy indie pop vehicle for the songwriting of Adam Ross. This merry band’s second album (***) could come across as a good friend trying to cheer you up, though the sometimes puppyish enthusiasm of the music, with its jubilant blasts of brass, often contrasts with the ambivalence of the lyrics, resulting in something quite bittersweet, as on Regret (“we talk about regret, we ain’t seen nothing yet”). Ross reverses the equation on album highlight Under the Sun, delivering empathic lyrics with a melancholic ache in a manner which recalls King Creosote – high praise in this parish. Fiona Shepherd
CLASSICAL: Dvořák & Schumann: Piano Concertos | Rating: **** | Hyperion
If it takes another recording of Schumann’s popular Piano Concerto to provide a reason for recording Dvořák’s lesser-heard one, then so be it. The latter has so much going for it – a solid structural framework, an artful synthesis of soloist and orchestra despite the raging difficulty of the original piano part presented here, and the heavenly simplicity and naturalness of Dvořák’s melodic muse – which pianist Stephen Hough and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, under Andris Nelsons, admirably capture.
Hough’s reading of the Dvořák is solid, with carefully considered splashes of colour and nuance. The central andante is both magical and timeless; the brisk finale full of irrepressible spirit and Bohemian swagger. There’s a warming, cerebral quality to Hough’s delivery of the partnering Schumann concerto, beautifully reflected by Nelsons and the CBSO. Ken Walton
FOLK: John McCusker: Hello, Goodbye | Rating: **** | Under One Sky Records
This first solo album for 13 years is as sharp and polished as one might expect from McCusker, just 17 when he joined Battlefield Band and now, 25 years on, a well-seasoned musician, composer and producer, who wrote much of this album while touring with Mark Knopfler’s band.
The introductory Calendar Boys, opens on an ethereal note, with breathy crooning from Heidi Talbot, but evolves into a pleasing fiddle tune and, despite impeccable accompaniments from the likes of Ian Carr, Michael McGoldrick and Phil Cunningham, it is essentially McCusker’s lithe and melodic fiddle which dominates this album.
There is vivacious playing in tunes such as the skittish hornpipe of the title track, with fiddle and accordion stepping out smartly over a snappy rhythm section. He also demonstrates, however, in tunes such as the old-timey-sounding Molly’s Waltz and It’s a Girl, that he can handle a slow air with real feeling. Jim Gilchrist