ELLY Jackson made her mainstream breakthrough half a decade ago. Studied and striking in image, and coolly reserved and unknowable in interviews, after delivering two hit singles and one Grammy-winning album she departed leaving the impression that her next move would either see her soar or consign her to the void.
La Roux - Trouble In Paradise
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The signs didn’t look good this year when it was announced that her former partner in the entity known as La Roux, Ben Langmaid, had departed. Langmaid’s name is still attached to six of the nine tracks here, although Jackson’s clear control of the musical direction being taken by her new band is evidenced by the fact there’s no discernible drop in quality where he doesn’t appear. One of the best tracks is Langmaid-less, and potentially sounds like a parting shot in his direction, with the moody electro grind of Silent Partner declaring “you’re not a partner, no you’re not a part of me / I need silence”.
As a whole, the record feels a lot like Jackson’s first – a vehicle for two or three excellent pop songs with a lot of filler in between (see Tropical Chancer, as cornily 80s as a Club 18-30 package deal). Yet there’s more warmth here than last time, from the likeable disco-house of Uptight Downtown to Kiss And Not Tell’s effervescent Europop, and at least the key sentiment of icy epic Let Me Down Gently – “you’re not my life but I want you in it” – is a line ripe for adaptation as an Ibiza sunrise anthem.
• Download: Uptight Downtown, Silent Partner
King Creosote - From Scotland With Love
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The invitation to provide a soundtrack for Virginia Heath’s Commonwealth Games tie-in film was initially greeted with trepidation by Cellardyke troubadour Kenny “King Creosote” Anderson, but this record proves to be one of his finest works to date. Undertaken in close collaboration with Heath, the record benefits from the cinematic pacing that link-up brings and from the troupe of great Scottish musicians Anderson involved in the project, including members of Admiral Fallow, The Leg and Sparrow and the Workshop. Even more than usual, he sounds indefinably Scottish, amid the disparate emotional tones of Something To Believe In’s forlorn shanty, the folksy Krautrock grind of For One Night Only and Pauper’s Dough’s gut-punching elegy.
• Download: For One Night Only, Pauper’s Dough
Slow Club - Complete Surrender
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For this third instalment in their five-year album recording career, Sheffield duo Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson have enlisted Richard Hawley’s long-time co-producer Colin Elliot, and produced a record which rings with the kind of bittersweet nostalgia that makes Hawley’s work such a pleasure. Throughout its course, Complete Surrender covers limber reggae-pop on Tears Of Joy, crashing Arcade Fire-style drama on Everything Is New, swinging country-rock on Suffering You, Suffering Me and lithe electro-rock on the title track, adding up to a record which balances the sweetly downbeat with the powerfully euphoric. An under-the-radar pleasure until now, this record deserves to send the duo to new heights.
• Download: Suffering You, Suffering Me, Complete Surrender
Sonny Rollins - Road Shows Volume 3
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This recording provides proof that age is no barrier to exuberant performance. Its star, tenor saxophone titan Sonny Rollins, is to be heard in one powerhouse live performance after another during a period (2001-2012) when his age ranged from 71 to 81. Particularly riveting is Solo Sonny, an eight-minute stream of musical consciousness in which Rollins steams through a couple of chapters of the Great American Songbook that must have had his St Louis audience on the edge of their seats.
• Download: Solo Sonny
Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar - The Call
Fellside Records FECD262
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Released last week, this is the second album by Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar, the BBC Folk Award-winning duo from the north of England. Vocals, guitar and fiddle take the lead over their own bouzouki, banjo, bodhran and English concertina, while guest musicians bring piano and bass, and rich harmony vocals. Over 12 tracks, traditional songs mix with some recently composed and self-penned material, and there is a natural, unforced quality in the singing and instrumental performance which is real and emotionally convincing, making this recording one of the best for some time from south of the Border.
• Download: Roses Three
Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms - Violin Concertos
Hänssler CD 94.226
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The performing career of the Romanian violinist Johanna Martzy lasted less than 30 years, delayed by the Second World War and cut short by cancer in 1979. In that period, however, she developed a reputation across Europe and in America for technical brilliance allied to controlled emotion. Today, her original EMI recordings under Walter Legge of Bach’s unaccompanied violin sonatas change hands for serious money. This digitally remastered CD of two live concert broadcasts from 1959 and 1964 features Martzy with the Stuttgart SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra, under Hans Müller-Kray for the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, and under Günter Wand for Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major. Her technical skill is obvious, her technique daunting, and even in these slightly thin-sounding recordings, the deeply felt commitment she brings to the works is clearly heard.
• Download this: Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, Allegro molto vivace