Album reviews: Holly Johnson | Olaf Arnalds

US singer Holly Johnson performs. Picture: Getty
US singer Holly Johnson performs. Picture: Getty
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POP

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy

Singer’s Grave A Sea Of Tongues

Domino

Star rating: ****

The latest step in a long and prolific career, Singer’s Grave A Sea Of Tongues is the 18th studio album in 21 years by Louisville-born alternative country troubadour Will Oldham. Saturated with slide guitar and rich fiddles, and with banjos rattling away beneath Oldham’s rasping, rootsy vocal, it’s both a supremely downhome record and a demonstration of its author’s ability to write songs which go straight to the heart. Keen ears will hear touches of Celtic song on Quail And Dumplings (Oldham’s roots are Scottish), while a sparse, spiritual quality pervades tracks such as Night Noises and We Are Unhappy.

DAVID POLLOCK

Download: There Will Be Spring, Whipped

Holly Johnson

Europa

Pleasuredome

Star rating: ****

Mentioning Europe and decorating your record with a Union Jack being washed away in the rain may be seen as a politically barbed move these days but, title track aside, sometime Frankie Goes To Hollywood singer Holly Johnson’s first solo record in 15 years concerns itself with the intensely personal. His voice remains undimmed after all these years, building an elegiac, torch-song quality to these sonically Europhilic anthems of love, acceptance and sometimes hard-fought contentment with life, the latter sense accentuated by the knowledge he’s been living with HIV for more than two decades. Also listen out for an unlikely selection of collaborators, including Vangelis, Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera and Durutti Column’s Vini Reilly.

DAVID POLLOCK

Download: Follow Your Heart, Europa

FOLK

Olof Arnalds

Palme

One Little Indian Records TPLP1238CD

Star rating: ****

Olof Arnalds’ sonic strangeness is reflected again, in yet another aspect, as the Icelandic artist releases her latest collection. Her beautiful voice inhabits similar meandering, icy environments as before, but now keeps company with deliciously unusual, sometimes arresting combinations of instrumental texture, quirky rhythms and unusual sounds. Collaborators Gunnar Orn Tynes and Skuli Sverrisson suffuse the album with complex folk-electronica and weird robotic time-keeping, but also keep the questing stillness at its heart.

NORMAN CHALMERS

Download: Patience

JAZZ

Charlie Haden & Jim Hall

Impulse! Renaissance 00602537841820

Star rating: ****

There’s a poignancy about this release from the newly resurrected Impulse! label: both musicians in the duo died in the last year. This is a previously unreleased recording of a concert given by the pair at the 1990 Montreal Jazz Festival, during which they performed a varied, richly textured programme ranging from standards (Body And Soul, Skylark) to their own compositions.

There’s a lovely gentleness to the sound of the guitar and bass so the ballads included are particularly soothing but more than offset by such thrillers as Hall’s infectious Down From Antigua. Terrific interplay and lyricism make this a wonderful souvenir of two greats at their best.

ALISON KERR

Download: Down From Antigua

CLASSICAL

Johann Sebastian Bach

Six Sonatas For Violin And Piano

ECM 476 4582

Star rating: *****

Some compositions get dashed off in a matter of weeks and are then left to succeed or fail; others take time to compose and are then revised time and time again.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s revisiting over several decades of his Six Sonatas For Violin And Harpsichord, begun while at the courts of Weimar and Cöthen, appears to be more about striving for perfection than responding to external criticism, something that was to affect later composers such as Brahms and Dvorák.

Here, the two soloists meet on equal terms, prefiguring the classic format of duo sonata that would emerge in later years. Violinist Michelle Makarski and pianist Keith Jarrett, two long-time, accomplished collaborators, prove well able to cope with the demands Bach makes of them in this highly worthwhile two-CD recording.

ALEXANDER BRYCE

Download: Sonata No 1 in B minor BWV 1014, ‘Adagio’