THE Scotsman’s music critics review the best of this week’s releases, including Guy Garvey’s Courting The Squall
Guy Garvey: Courting the Squall | Polydor | Rating: ***
It’s sad to report that Guy Garvey has turned down a part in Game of Thrones. He was considered to have the right stuff to play a ringmaster type figure but had to pass because he’s simply too busy with other stuff.
In the last five years, quite apart from releasing and touring The Take Off and Landing of Everything with his much loved and now comfortably established band Elbow, he has put his voice to equally soothing use as a presenter on 6 Music, contributed lyrics to a stage musical version of King Kong, written theme songs for the Olympics and the film Man Up, started work on a memoir, got the curator’s job for next year’s Meltdown Festival and produced this debut solo album.
Courting the Squall is one of those social solo albums though, featuring a scratch band of musician pals – members of I Am Kloot and The Whip, the singer/songwriter Ben Christophers on keyboards – who, according to Garvey, “moved fast, drank a lot and had a massive laugh”. Temporarily free of all that reasonable band democracy business which Elbow cleave to most dearly, Garvey opted instead for benevolent dictatorship, recording quickly and moving on when he tired of a particular song.
For all this opportunity to take a different direction, there are a handful of numbers which could have strayed from an Elbow session – the delicate, downbeat meditation of the title track, ideally suited to Garvey’s hangdog vocals, Juggernaut with its poetic kitchen sink lyrical style and sad piano and the subtly gospel-tinged Broken Bottles and Chandeliers have the comforting familiarity if not the meticulous production of the Elbow sound.
The rest of the album is patently more groove-based and jazz-influenced. The single Angela’s Eyes is a raw, rhythmic, bluesy jam with bursts of analogue synths. Garvey’s voice canters freely over the top of a jazzy bassline and offbeat drums on Harder Edges, which is then souped up with a big brassy instrumental break.
The approach is instinctive but the results feel unfinished, like the ensemble succeeded in capturing a moment in the recording studio rather than producing killer songs. It’s hard to get a handle on the minimal and moody likes of Unwind and Three Bells.
But the spontaneity does pay dividends on a couple of livelier tracks. The steady, throbbing bassline gives Yesterday a low-slung swagger, Garvey’s vocal lines follow the rhythm and Christophers supplies some resonant piano playing over the top, while the Elbow horn section enlivens the funky Belly of the Whale, which includes a playful deconstruction of the Careless Whisper saxophone hook. Electricity, a sultry supper club duet with Jolie Holland of The Be Good Tanyas, is the most complete song in the set, an evocative production which sounds like it has beamed in from another era. Fiona Shepherd
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats: Nathaniel Rateliff & Night Sweats | Stax/Caroline International | Rating: ***
Troubadour Nathaniel Rateliff follows Devendra Banhart in swapping folk for funk with his latest incarnation. He is a powerful, soulful singer anyway and his new band The Night Sweats lay on a grinding groove on the Stax-influenced stomps I Need Never Get Old and Look It Here. Rateliff’s sultry tone recalls Paolo Nutini on the slinky Shake but, like Nutini, he can overegg the testifying occasionally. But he injects just the right amount of wail to Howling At Nothing and delivers the country soul Wasting Time and summery insouciance of Thank You with tasty understatement. FS
Killing Joke: Pylon | Spinefarm | Rating: ****
While some of their punk peers are now simply stalwarts of the reunion circuit, Killing Joke find their warrior instinct undimmed and their dystopian dispatches as relevant as ever.
Pylon is a musclebound feast of ruthless industrial metal and piledriving pomp anthems, powered by the belligerent rhythms of Youth and Paul Ferguson, swathed in the gothic flourishes of our greatest
living guitarist, Geordie Walker, and crowned with the fiercely focused invective of frontman Jaz Coleman, hauling the ruling classes over the coals on the likes of New Jerusalem and War on Freedom. In other words, brilliant business as usual. FS
Bryan Adams: Get Up | Polydor | Rating: ***
“If I’m going to go down, I’m going to go down rocking,” pledges Bryan Adams on his latest album. Not with the bland AOR radio bait of Brand New Day, you won’t. Instead, Get Up demonstrates its love of rock’n’roll
by paying tribute in a nostalgic middle of the road manner with fond mentions for “Buddy and Elvis” and the jaunty, skiffly stylings of You Belong To Me. Adams has clearly been encouraged in this rose-tinted endeavour by producer Jeff Lynne, whose influence on the distinctly ELO-flavoured melodic power pop of We Did It All and Don’t Even Try is obvious. FS
Chick Corea & Béla Fleck: Two | Concord Jazz | Rating: ****
Having released their critically acclaimed studio album, The Enchantment, back in 2007, prog-bluegrass banjo ace Béla Fleck and eclectically-minded pianist Chick Corea have toured their seemingly ludicrous instrumental partnership, and Two captures a wonderfully exuberant concert featuring numbers from the first album, plus fresh material.
Right from the word go, in Corea’s Señorita, the pair are thoroughly enjoying themselves and flying by the seat of their improvisatory pants, erecting near-baroque but ever shifting musical structures, with repertoire ranging from the subversive tempo changes, staccato outbursts and other high jinks of Joban Dna Nopia to a dreamy prelude and berceuse by Dutilleux.
Fleck’s solo The Climb seems to whirr somewhere between the Appalachians and Andalucia before leading into Mountain, Corea then entering the bluegrass fray with a vengeance and seemingly interjecting Dave Brubeckian snatches to proceedings. Even more manic is a pedal-to-metal rendition of jazz standard Bugle Call Rag, while Corea’s Children’s Song No. 6 becomes an extended and wonderfully animated dance for this unlikely pairing of instruments. Jim Gilchrist
Alessandro Scarlatti: Con eco d’amore | Harmonia Mundi | Rating: ****
Looking into the voluminous collection of works by Alessando Scarlatti – father of the more famous Domenico – has been a personal quest for the soprano Elizabeth Watts, unearthing as a result this treasure trove of selected arias from operas, cantatas and oratorios by the brilliant 18th century Neapolitan composer.
Watts reflects the sparkling virtuosity of some and the gentle passion of others with equal insight and arresting musicality. She embraces the music with engaging purity and burnished tone, qualities echoed by Laurence Cummings and The English Concert. This is a delightful eye-opener to the Scarlatti we often overlook. Ken Walton
Blazin’ Fiddles: North | Blazin’ Records | Rating: ****
Another fine and full-bodied onset of ringing strings from the Blazers, currently comprising fiddlers Bruce MacGregor, Kristan Harvey, Jenna Reid and Rua Macmillan with Angus Lyons on keyboards and Anna Massie on guitar. Massie also provides an occasional fifth fiddle, as in the thrilling Catch and Kiss set of venerable reels that eschews accompaniment but uses all manner of pizzicato, chording and other dynamics to build up the melodic tension.
The album opens with the glorious introductory pulsing of Shetland Night and rarely lets up, with the traditional rubbing shoulders companionably with the contemporary. The classic hornpipe President Garfield’s, for instance, skips its merry way into recent tunes by Allan MacDonald and Phil Cunningham, while the brisk Uist Dance is led by Lyon’s ringing keyboard into a rollicking Swedish polska.
Gentler interludes include Lyon’s lovely slow air, Taigh Sia, and the build-up of Reid’s Gamekeepers, as well as Java, by the 18th century master, William Marshall, to which they add a sweetly drifting “string section”. Jim Gilchrist