FROM Madchester-era also-rans whose exhortations to Sit Down marked them out as a jangly novelty group if ever there was one, James have commendably spun their career out to 13 albums and 30 years’ worth of music.
James - La Petite Mort
Cooking Vinyl, £13.99
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Their first new release since 2010, La Petite Mort uses the bitter experience of singer Tim Booth’s mother and best friend dying to create a typically literate and uplifting record.
Produced by Max Dingel, it recreates a timeworn James style which is both somewhat retro and utterly in character with what they’ve done previously. There’s a certain endearing vivaciousness to everything they do, from the ominous, dramatic intro of Walk Like You, with the 54-year-old Booth’s still-urgent falsetto flying over thumping drums and squalling strings, to the lively synth buzz of Curse Curse and Moving On’s arena-ready dynamic, Booth poignantly hollering “I’m on my way... leave a little light on” to absent friends. Where the album considers tragedy, it does so with understated reserve. “You wanted freedom / but now that she’s gone, there’s no depth to the song that you’re singing,” sings Booth on Gone Baby Gone, which also contains the record’s finest couplet “love is a deal we strike to conceal / that we’re blind to the roll of the dice”.
There are initially hints of The Smiths on Frozen Britain, a song which paints desperate hedonism as “escaping a coffin”, while suggestions of regret and musings on death leak in later to the slow waltz Bitter Virtue and All In My Mind, before the slow-burn anthem All I’m Saying (“...I’m missing you”) closes a convincing, cohesive record which stands among James’ better works.
Download: Moving On, All I’m Saying
Clean Bandit - New Eyes
Atlantic Records, £12.99
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The latest in a long line of artists to play on the “making classical music sexy” ticket, the Cambridge University-educated Clean Bandit avoid being pigeonholed as a kind of dance music Nigel Kennedy by toning the classical influences right down. The odd string interlude aside, this is a somewhat high-falutin’ dance-pop record that’s in tune with the sound of 2014, from the squelchy bass symphony of Mozart’s House to garage-styled piano ballad Extraordinary and the measured rap of the title song. Most of these tracks have the potential to recreate the success of the chart-topping Rather Be, but extended exposure makes this feel like a classy novelty project.
Download: Extraordinary, Rather Be
First Aid Kit - Stay Gold
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Releasing their first album on major label Columbia following two records through indie imprint Wichita, Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg seem poised to make a major breakthrough this summer. Yet this isn’t an album which grabs you by the scruff of the neck, rather a series of amiable, alternative country-folk recordings which glide on sweet melodies and the pair’s beautiful approximations of Southern American croons. Highlights like Master Pretender, Cedar Lane and A Long Time Ago have a winsome spirit and a wonderfully controlled sense of emotive reserve, while the band aren’t above a rattling hoedown like Heaven Knows. The whole record is the very definition of a grower, and all the more powerful for it.
Download: Master Pretender, Heaven Knows
Chet Baker & Strings - The Complete Sessions
Essential Jazz Classics B00HWCCN7W, £10.99
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As a sell-out Chet Baker themed show at Glasgow’s South Side Fringe proved last week, the great trumpeter, singer and poster-boy for West Coast jazz of the 1950s is still a cult figure. This reissue, which features five out-takes from the original 1954 recording session plus six bonus tracks from a different, Italian, strings session, focuses mainly on the trumpeter, in the company of a strings ensemble plus a sextet that includes the likes of Zoot Sims and Bud Shank. It’s not must-have Baker, or even the best album with which to become acquainted with him, but it has its charms.
Download: You’d Better Go Now
Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra - Talk About The Weather
Tea Pad Recordings and Wipe Out Music TP003, web only
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They’re at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival next month – replete with Heron’s vocals and guitar, added to mandolin, harmonica, accordion, plus double bass, drums, guitar and four vocalists. On this, their second album of skewed Texas swing, gypsy jazz and hot, humorous country blues they’ve added reeds and horns for a big, thick sound, but their spontaneous combustion is always unstoppable. The chord sequences, rhythmic chops and zesty lyrical fun pour out in Drinking Coffee Rag and their YouTube video track High Speed Train. Six retro-cool lads from Newcastle, having clever fun.
Download: Don’t Kick that Oven Door
Adolphe Blanc - String Quintets Nos 3, 4 and 7
ES Dur ES2046, £14.99
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For French composers wishing to write classical or romantic chamber music, the late 19th century was a difficult time. Most of their peers were growing ever bolder (and expansive) in terms of musical works, and French audiences seemed happy to follow along. Thus much of the creative output of Adolphe Blanc, who studied under Halévy at the Paris Conservatoire, consisted of domestic arrangements for violin and piano of new and well-known opera themes.
Writing in a classical format, Blanc is as willing to experiment with the string quintet format as any; here he supplements the standard quartet complement of violins, cello and viola with a double bass. The result in these three works, strongly performed by the Fabergé Quintet, is music that is immediately accessible and engaging, highly enjoyable throughout, and deserving of a wider audience.
Download: String Quartet No. 3, Allegro