Album reviews: Ella Eyre | Batteries | Albert Hammond Jr

Ella Eyre. Picture: Getty Images
Ella Eyre. Picture: Getty Images
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ELLA Eyre’s Feline, a debut album from Batteries, and Albert Hammond Jr’s latest LP are among this week’s music selections reviewed by our writers

Ella Eyre: Feline

EMI

Rating: **

Ella McMahon, better known as Ella Eyre, is only the latest in a succession of “featuring” vocalists whose careers have been carefully launched off the back of their stage managed appearances on other people’s records. It’s a common – and, it seems, close to surefire – way for a record company to ensure a return on their investment in these most conservative times for the major record labels – see the similarly anointed likes of Emeli Sandé and Sam Smith, who first lent their voices to hits by Chipmunk, Wiley and Disclosure, and Eyre’s direct competition Jess Glynne, who hit the top of the charts thanks to her guest vocals on Clean Bandit’s singles.

Eyre launched her pop career bid as go-to vocalist for the dance act Rudimental, while covering her options by collaborating with Bastille, Naughty Boy and rappers Wiz Khalifa and Tinie Tempah. She has also had a hand in writing the Sigma/Paloma Faith number one hit Changing and the German Eurovision entry Black Smoke (nul points there, unfortunately). Before that, the 20-year-old with the big voice, leonine mane and “fierce” act to match studied musical theatre at the Brit School – previous alumni including Adele and Amy Winehouse. So one way or another, she was gonna getcha.

But what has she got? Eyre presents as a mix of drum’n’bass dancefloor diva and Amy-loving pop jazz wannabe. But we already have Paloma Faith – do we need a younger model with a fraction of the personality? Perhaps she could occupy the charisma void recently vacated by Rita Ora in pursuit of a television career.

Feline, her debut album, has already been delayed by ten months, presumably so that it could be precision tooled for commercial success. It’s frontloaded with the hit singles, Together, If I Go, Good Times and Gravity, which follow a laboratory-tested formula – each boasting a souped-up, skittering, clattering chorus with a wordless hookline intended to send the crowd temporarily wild when it kicks in, some manicured strings sweeping in over the top of the production and Eyre giving it loads over nothing.

The slick soul pop of Comeback and Deeper break the blaring pattern. These are no more original yet somehow more palatable than the relentless assault of vacuous drum’n’bass euphoria. Pallid ballads Two and Even If, the latter a lip-quavering piano number like so many others, make no impact, and then Eyre is simply marking time before she has one last throw of the dance dice on Worry About Me.

Feline ends with Typical Me, a Paloma-shaped slice of pop attitude about how Eyre is always messing up just like any normal pre-ordained pop princess. This sound and message is, one suspects, what she really wants the listener to take from this non-distinctive debut rather than the headache of a succession of cookie cutter club cuts. FIONA SHEPHERD

Batteries: Batteries

Do Yourself In

Rating: ****

Batteries is the spiky solo project of Steven Clark, better known as Sci-fi Steven of bis, delivering short, sharp shocks of fidgety, melodic new wave.

The dystopian industrial pop of London is cut from the same cloth as Blur’s Trouble in the Message Centre, while the invigorating one-minute burst of Anorexia Poster Girls is reminiscent of their ferocious toys-out-the-pram moments.

Where bis would often celebrate their particular passions in song, almost every track here sounds a socio-political warning that would not be out of place on a Muse album – though Batteries is as brisk as Muse are bombastic. FS

Albert Hammond Jr: Momentary Masters

Infectious

Rating: ***

While The Strokes often seem bogged down by expectations, the solo utterances of their various members

are often devil-may-care, even disposable efforts.

Their guitarist Albert Hammond Jr’s latest is a trim, enjoyable collection which doesn’t stress too much over its debt to other artists – not least The Strokes when showing off the lean, wiry likes of Side Boob or the chunky indie rock riffage of Arctic Monkeys on Caught By My Shadow. Hammond’s voice has a light but seductive tone but is unable to make anything other than filler out of his unexpected cover of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice. FS

CLASSICAL

Bach: Suites for Solo Cello

Delphian

Rating: ****

There’s a beautifully meditative quality to these performances of Bach’s solo cello Suites by Philip Higham that is both soothing and questioning. The current controversy over the music’s authorship aside – claims by an Australian musicologist that they are by Anna Magdelena, and not by her husband JS Bach – the entire set

displays a seamless flow of invention that takes us from the pragmatic virtuosity of the 1st to the heart-tugging emotion of the 6th as if on a life’s journey.

Higham’s use of a 5-string instrument in the latter endows the finale of this 2-CD set with a prophetic, luminescent glow. KEN WALTON

FOLK

Ályth: Homelands

Ane Records

Rating: ****

Lewis-born Ályth McCormack’s voice combines delicate tremulousness with assurance in this excellent selection of songs in Gaelic and English from her two homelands – her native Scotland and Ireland, where she now lives. She is accompanied considerately by Brian McAlpine on piano and guitars, Aidan O’Rourke on fiddle, Karol lynch on bouzouki, Joe Csibi on double bass and Noel Eccles on occasional percussion.

Her poise and purity of voice comes over in her handling of often well-known material such as Carrickfergus, with spare piano chording from McAlpine and light fiddle interjections from O’Rourke, while another old chestnut, the Gaelic Brochan Lom opens The American Set (Mouth Music) which skips along mellifluously.

She gives great clarity to two near-contemporary songs, Martin Furey’s My Grandmother’s Eyes, and George Weir and Roy Williamson’s under-appreciated gem, Lord Yester, but she is perhaps at her finest in A Mhàiri bhòidheach – “Beautiful Mary” (with guest fiddle from Ali Smith) and the lingering yearning of Chair mo Dhonnchadh donn bheinn – “My Duncan”. JIM GILCHRIST

JAZZ

Eddie Thompson Trio: The Bosendorfer Concert 1980

Hep Jazz Records

Rating: ****

Eddie Thompson, the blind British jazz pianist who spent a decade in New York, had returned to the UK by the time played this characteristically zestful gig in the Palace Theatre, Mansfield, in October 1980, just six years before he died aged 61.

Despite the Magritte inspired surreal questioning of “Ceci n’est pas une piano” on its cover, this is thoroughly down-to-earth jazz. Thompson, accompanied by “the two Petes” – Taylor on bass and Stables on drums – states his credentials right from the start in a zestful exploration of On Green Dolphin Street and closes with the short, sharp boogie of Sweet Georgia Brown.

In between, Tom Jobim’s Corcovado (mistitled on the sleeve as the similarly bossa-rhythmed Theme from Mash) sashays along sensuously before breaking into exuberant double time, while the Ellington-Strayhorn number Satin Doll shows Thompson inventively enjoying himself, ranging about that resonant Bosendorfer Imperial keyboard with its extra bass octave. JC