Having chipped away at the indie coalface since the early 1990s, Elbow finally broke through to arena-filling status with their Mercury Music Prize-winning album The Seldom Seen Kid and its follow-up Build A Rocket Boys!
ELBOW: THE TAKE OFF AND LANDING OF EVERYTHING
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They toasted their arrival with a beer – their own brand Build A Rocket Beer, that is. Because that’s the kind of group they are, happy to embrace success but with no desire to go all Coldplay and start custom-writing uplifting festival anthems.
Their sixth album simply cleaves to what they are already very good at – producing wry/romantic ruminations set to a stately backing. Frontman Guy Garvey, inset, mined childhood memories for Build A Rocket Boys!; The Take Off And Landing Of Everything takes inspiration from the present day, the reflections of a bunch of guys approaching middle age.
Dignified opener This Blue World takes its time but, even at seven minutes long, doesn’t outstay its welcome. This stark though not bleak anatomy of a relationship told in day-before-you-came retrospect (“was the universe in rehearsal for us?”) reintroduces Garvey in familiar crumpled soul mode.
He’s good company, playing the seasoned old drinker on Charge, observing the youngsters inhabiting his favourite bar with a cantankerous eye (“glory be, these f***ers are ignoring me, I’m from another century”). Then their old pals the Halle Orchestra arrive and lift the mood with a beautiful intervention. Elbow celebrate with another patented beer, their Charge Pale Ale.
The focus shifts from the solitary barfly to a band of boozers on the Antony And Cleopatra-referencing My Sad Captains, a poetic paean to honourable drinking buddies which has more in common with Brendan Behan and Dylan Thomas than lairy rock’n’roll.
Moving away from the bar, Real Life and Honey Sun are too tastefully understated for their own good, while the title track maintains a brisk pace but doesn’t particularly go anywhere. These, and others, are songs in the key of Elbow but without distinction.
Words and music come together more evocatively on New York Morning to provide a personal snapshot of the city which became a second home to Garvey while he contributed to Marius de Vries’s King Kong musical. The words are lifted almost directly from his own diary entry, which might explain why the phrase “my giddy aunt” has made it into a song lyric. You don’t get that from Coldplay.
Metronomy: Love Letters
Because Music, £12.99
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Metronomy’s previous album, The English Riviera, received some pretty fine notices and went on to sell a quarter of a million copies worldwide but it never sounded as good as some of the sweetly off-kilter stuff on this analogue gem of a follow-up.
Love Letters is a thoroughly charming marriage of lo-fi Casio tones, Joe Mount’s strangely beguiling vocals and his idiosyncratic vision for these songs, which all comes together most winningly on the rapturous ache of The Most Immaculate Haircut, the low-slung chime of Month Of Sundays and the glorious New Wave soul stomp of the title track. Unexpected and in a lane of its own.
Joan As Police Woman: The Classic
Play It Again Sam, £13.99
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Joan Wasser’s fourth album in her Joan As Police Woman guise is titled after its old school influences and recording techniques. The exultant doo-wop of the title track – with fellow singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur providing the bass vocal – the light reggae lope of Ask Me and the bold, brassy soul track Shame all nod to classic sounds without being slavishly retro, while the decision to record live where possible has paid dividends, capturing a nimble, carefree team effort which even makes light, luminous work of the moody, minimal ballad Get Direct and the spacey psych soul epic Stay.
Chopin: Piano Concertos
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As a Chopin interpreter, Argentine-born pianist Ingrid Fliter eschews fawning sentimentality and affectation. Instead, we have here two robustly poetic performances of the Polish composer’s two piano concertos, both from Fliter herself, and from the accompanying Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Jun Märkl. The solo playing is exquisite, liquidly expressive in the slow movements, firm-toned but dance-like and deliciously pliable in the faster ones. Märkl responds with equal freshness and immediacy, finding genuine character and linear definition in the often-maligned orchestral writing. Chopin with attitude and integrity.
EMILY SMITH: ECHOES
WHITE FALL RECORDS, £13.99
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Emily Smith, a singer of rare delicacy, delivers these mainly traditional songs in the company of fine instrumentalists, her core band of producer Jamie McClennan on guitar and fiddle, multi-instrumentalist Matheu Watson, bassist Ross Hamilton and percussionist Signy Jakobsdottir augmented by guests including American slide guitar wizard Jerry Douglas and bluegrass singer Aoife O’Donovan on backing vocals.
Doubtless informed by her appearances on Transatlantic Sessions, Smith and company proceed to steer the whole exercise unashamedly towards Nashville.
It’s cleverly done, beautifully produced, and clearly there are migratory links between Scots and American song, but I find something troubling in hearing Lowland Scots ballads of such dark pedigree as King Orfeo or The Twa Sisters so summarily Americanised.
Some lighter songs – the jaunty Hawk and Crow in particular – jog along more comfortably, and Darrell Scott’s Open Door is a natural for this treatment. Smith’s singing is peerless throughout but, with the best will in the world, I don’t quite see the point.
ALFREDO RODRIGUEZ: THE INVASION PARADE
MACK AVENUE RECORDS, £14.99
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The Cuban pianist’s second album – produced by Quincy Jones – explores the music of his native island through the filter of New York, a classic
cultural combination that goes back at least as far as Dizzy Gillespie’s collaborations with Chano Pozo in the 1940s.
It has been a constantly renewing tradition across the decades, and Rodriguez and his multi-national trio featuring Bulgarian bassist Peter Slavov and Puerto Rican drummer Henry
Cole (augmented by several guests) adds his own perspective to that lineage.
His vibrant title track evokes an annual carnival in Santiago de Cuba, and his own compositions are augmented with fresh takes on four well-known Cuban tunes, including Guantanamera and Veinte Años. His contemporary explorations of traditional Cuban rhythms give a
vivid original spin to the music, but without any sacrifice of colour or energy.
Katerina Fotinaki: Tzitzikia (Cicadas)
ACCORDS CROISES, WEB ONLY
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As the Greek guitarist-singer-songwriter Katerina Fotinaki explains in her liner-note, this CD, her prize for winning a Greek song-writing contest, should have been produced in Greece, but the abnormal economic conditions there dictated its production in a more stable economy. She describes this music as a “prayer for justice to return” to her country. With spare accompaniment from a wide variety of other instruments, her very beguiling songs – including a tango and a lullaby – richly deserve that success.