OUR writers review this week’s new album releases including Giorgio Moroder, James Taylor and Hudson Mohawke
Album of the week: Giorgio Moroder: DÉjÀ Vu
Star rating: **
Only a handful of artists in any given field can be said to have altered the course of popular culture – Italian-born, Munich-based record producer Giorgio Moroder is one such pioneer, a benevolent revolutionary whose work with co-writer Pete Bellotte and studio engineer Robbie Wedel on the classic Donna Summer disco tracks I Feel Love and Love To Love You Baby remains a template for electronic pop and dance music almost 40 years later.
Moroder went on to compose and produce a number of successful film soundtracks in the 80s, as well as the theme songs for two Olympic Games and one World Cup before his spoken word cameo, Giorgio by Moroder, on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories introduced his name to a new generation of clubbers.
As a consequence, Moroder – now in his 70s – has taken up DJing gigs once again and produced his first solo album since the mid-80s – though Déjà Vu must be one of the most sociable solo albums ever made with its all-star cast of guest vocalists queuing up to be sprinkled with the Moroder fairydust.
He opens his comeback with hands-in-the-air ravey overture 4 U With Love and it is immediately apparent that Moroder is happy to plunge into the present rather than hark back to his signature synthesized hi-energy rhythms.
And so the feelgood froth prevails through the trancey disco flavour of the title track and the bouncy kiddie pop, accelerated bpm and pouty rapping breakdown of Diamonds, with affected vocals supplied by songwriters Sia and Charlie XCX respectively.
If these proven hitmakers can’t set the dancefloor alight, what hope for second devision “featuring” vocalists Mikky Ekko and Matthew Koma? The former offers Don’t Let Go, a vacuous, soaring dance pop track like so many others, while the latter’s Tempted is catchy boy band pop pap.
Moroder is a long way from the cutting edge but at least he salvages the party somewhat with a succession of squeaky divas – Kylie Minogue is shriller than ever but otherwise comfortable on the processed disco funk of Right Here Right Now, Foxes also embraces her inner dancing queen on Wildstar, which makes the right noises but still feels insubstantial, and Britney Spears gives a suitably blank recitation of the banal lyrics on a tooled up cover of Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner. The husky Kelis at least provides a contrasting vocal tone to another generic electro banger, Back and Forth.
When Moroder finally chucks out all the house guests and gets a little time to himself, he turns in a couple of fine electro instrumentals, La Disco and the retro-futuristic driving music of 74 is the New 24. The optimistic title of the latter reflects his new lease of life while the music suggests that a truly solo effort from Moroder would pack more character than this generic collection.
Hudson Mohawke: Lantern
Star rating: ***
Glaswegian DJ/producer Ross Birchard has been much in demand of late, working with the starry likes of Kanye West, Drake and John Legend, and has chosen to import their many-fingers-one-pie approach to album-making, delegating contributions from the likes of Mark Ronson and Zane Lowe while adopting the role of executive producer. Consequently, Lantern is an ambitious electro sprawl of scintillating synth odysseys, some featuring glistening orchestration which would not sound out of place on a Hollywood score, where the chart-friendly chorus of Warriors sits unapologetically beside more obtuse hipster creations such as Antony Hegarty collaboration Indian Steps.
James Taylor: Before This World
Star rating: **
There is just no coaxing James Taylor out of his musical comfort zone on this first album of new material in over a decade. Before This World comprises wall-to-wall carefully crafted cosy listening such as the gentle jaunt of his Boston Red Sox homage Angels of Fenway and the escapist nostalgia of Montana.
He furrows his brow ever so slightly on Watchin’ Over Me, accompanied by mildly mournful folk fiddle and minor key backing vocals, while the quiet patter of a martial drumbeat and keening reed pipe in the background barely upset the equilibrium on empathetic protest song Far Afghanistan.
Songs by Schubert 2: Ian Bostridge & Julius Drake
Star rating: ****
Apart from the instantly distinguishing feature of Ian Bostridge’s crystal clear tenor voice, his signature is ever present in this second volume of Schubert songs, recorded live at the Wigmore Hall, through the sheer intelligence of the programme and the vivid sense of storytelling that brings each song alive. In these assorted settings of Schulze, Mayrhofer Rückert and others, he is joined by regular accompanist Julius Drake.
The musical rapport is both easeful and intense, both musicians sharing a love and affection for Schubert’s endlessly intuitive writing, whether in the mixed emotions of Im Frühling or the galloping virtuosity of Auf der Brücke.
ALASTAIR CAPLIN, JEZ HELLARD, NATHAN BALL, NYE PARSONS & SCOTT COOK: LIVE ON THE LEY
Star rating: ****
This quirky but hugely engaging album captures all the intimacy but also the first-rate musicianship of a front-room concert in Glastonbury by a motley collection of performers assembled on the last night of a tour by the Anglo-Canadian singing duo of Jez Hellard and Scott Cook.
There’s some fine acoustic guitar work, resonantly woody bass tones from Nye Parsons, while Alastair Caplin’s fiddle really sings in the intimate, solo deliberations of Esplanada de Graça and the wonderful Atlas Tango, with Jez Hellard’s harmonica squalling eloquently over lugubriously groaning bowed bass.
Caplin’s singing stands out in the traditional Nobody’s Fault But Mine and The Junebug Waltz, while Cook’s grainy toned material includes the compelling Real Revolution, shot through with Caplin’s fiddle, and the homely intimacy of New Grist, while his Song for a Pilgrim sounds straight from the heart. Ball also takes singing honours, including his own Stand Up, driven by his tautly slapping guitar.
Kurt Elling: Passion World
Star rating: ****
The Chicago-born singer and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra concluded their recent Sinatra tribute in Edinburgh with his take on the Loch Tay Boat Song, and that combination is replicated here in one track of a disc that ranges widely in both geography and style, and in which he sings in five different languages – English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German.
While his performances feature less outright improvisation than usual, the singer’s impeccable phrasing and vocal command are apparent throughout a very eclectic, indeed slightly odd collection, spanning the aforesaid Scottish folk song to his interpretations of Pat Metheny’s After The Door, Björk’s Who Is It?, U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name and Brian Byrne’s setting of James Joyce’s Where Love Is. Other guest performers include trumpeters Till Brönner and Arturo Sandoval, accordionist Richard Galliano and singer Sara Gazarek.