Album reviews: Lana del Rey | Ed Sheeran

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LANA Del Rey is a precious commodity, being a pretty sophisticated top-to-bottom pop persona gracefully wafting above and beyond her plebby musical peers, who also happens to have sold truckloads of albums.

Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey performs at this year's Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, California. Picture: Getty

Lana Del Rey performs at this year's Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, California. Picture: Getty

Ultraviolence

Polydor,

Star rating: * * * *

Having invested this far, and taken her unfair share of internet invective along the way, her creator, Lizzie Grant has been meticulous in the making of this follow-up to Born To Die, re-recording the whole album earlier this year with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.

Together, they have made a sumptuous record, dripping in drama, replete with ravishing melodies and confidently dispatched at an audaciously slow, serene pace, favouring atmosphere over easy hooks. The mournful tone recalls Beck’s beautiful Morning Phase album, though it is frequently overdriven by an artist who is always ready for her close-up.

But talk about character development: Cruel World starts small with that pouty voice and tremolo guitar but slowly pans out over the course of six minutes to a widescreen epic worthy of Stevie Nicks and her wind machine. Likewise, Pretty When You Cry features an Oscar-winning display of cracked vulnerability set against an expansive musical canvas.

The tick-list of lyrical imagery is unchanged, though at least her set-dressing of glamorous screw-ups, classic cars and Latino bad boys is evocative. Del Rey adopts a series of questionable personas – the prostitute in love on Sad Girl, the hipster ingénue of Brooklyn Baby (“my boyfriend’s pretty cool, but he’s not as cool as me,” she writes with her partner Barrie James O’Neill, formerly of Kassidy) and the ambivalent abused partner on the title track, which references The Crystals’ He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss) and requires a stomach for sado-masochism.

She sounds positively ecstatic outlining her dysfunctional relationship on Shades Of Cool, turning in a rapturous vocal where conventional wisdom would suggest a bluesy delivery – that comes instead from the guitar solo. Money Power Glory is more obviously satirical, while F**ked My Way Up To The Top blends the mouth of Lily Allen with the music of Angelo Badalamenti.

If Del Rey’s parade of monsters and martyrs has the potential to leave a bad taste in the mouth, then her gorgeous closing cover of The Other Woman cleanses the palate. This Jessie Mae Robinson song was made famous by Nina Simone, but Del Rey channels the Jeff Buckley version for maximum melodrama. Fiona Shepherd

POP

Ed Sheeran

X

Atlantic

Star rating: * * *

Ed Sheeran’s success in the States has afforded the chance to work with producer Rick Rubin and persuaded Pharrell Williams to spread himself even thinner. x (as in multiply) perpetuates the tussle between Sheeran the rhythmic one-man boy band and the sensitive, nay drippy balladeer in the Barlow mould, but also showcases his R&B crooner aspirations – the falsetto soul-meets-MC Hammer groove of current single Sing being the tip of a pretty shallow iceberg. Sheeran is a decent singer but essentially middle of the road, so his bids to position himself as the UK’s Justin Timberlake sound more like light funky rock in the John Mayer/Gavin DeGraw mode. FS

Old Crow

Medicine Show: Remedy

ATO/PIAS

Star rating: * * *

Brand new Grand Ole Opry members Old Crow Medicine Show feel “country music needs a whoopin’” and their adoption of the hi-octane mountain music tradition is the way to do it. Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer could be a Jack White title but if he were let loose on the song it would come off a lot more demented; in Old Crow’s hands, this is straightforward roots rock. They’re more fired up on party bluegrass numbers Brave Boys and

8 Dogs 8 Banjos, which sounds like a raucous recipe for… something, and their sincere writing skills are aired on simple but classic-sounding ballads, Firewater and Dearly Departed Friend. FS

CLASSICAL

James Macmillan

Series Vol 3: Works for Chamber Orchestra with Soloists

Challenge Classics

Star rating: * * * *

This third volume in the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic’s recordings of James MacMillan’s music, with the composer conducting, focuses on music for soloists with chamber orchestra. The contrasts are vivid, between the relaxed reworking of the Scots song Ca’ the Yowes in the two -movement From Ayrshire – violinist Linus Roth capturing equally the rhapsodic pastoralism of the opening Lento and the earthy hustle and bustle of the Fast Reel – to the spectral glow of Tuireadh (Lars Wouters ven der Oudeweijer on clarinet) and devotional ecstasy of Kiss on Wood, powerfully played by Julius Berger. MacMillan’s shaping of his own music is probing and direct, and hugely characterful in the often parodic variations that constitute ...as others see us..., quirky musical sketches based on images from the National Portrait Gallery. Ken Walton

JAZZ

Lee Konitz, Dan Tepfer, Michael Janisch, Jeff Williams

First Meeting

Whirlwind Recordings

Star rating: * * *

Bassist Michael Janisch first worked with veteran saxophonist Lee Konitz in Glasgow in 2008, a collaboration which led to these quartet sessions from London in 2010. This disc ostensibly features familiar standards (including Billie’s Bounce, Giant Steps, Body & Soul and Stella By Starlight), but the musical procedures are spontaneous, and diverge considerably from the starting material. The quartet often divides into duo or trio settings, and the musicians are palpably on their mettle in following the twists of the music. It is a little uneven in places, but Konitz – 82 at the time – still sounds strong and inventive on alto and soprano saxophones (the latter something of a rarity on disc), and his collaborators make their own powerful contributions. Kenny Mathieson

FOLK

For Freedom Alone

The Wars of Independence

Greentrax

Star rating: * * *

One might argue that at this momentously pivotal point in Scotland’s history we should be looking positively ahead, rather than casting back. Bannockburn is Bannockburn, however, and there’s no getting away from next week’s 700th anniversary. This compilation ranges through the Wallace and Bruce campaigns, combining predictably rousing material with more thoughtful interludes and recitations, including a pithy Declaration of Arbroath from Iain Anderson. There is stark solemnity in Arthur Johnston’s exposition of Scots Wha Hae, while the McCalmans give a stirring a cappella delivery of The Lion Wallace Saw. Another folk veteran, Alastair MacDonald, makes Stirling Brig suitably steely, although his William Wallace lays on the machismo like a chain gang chorus. Reigning in the horses is Sylvia Barnes’s gentle Lament of Wallace and fiddler Alasdair Fraser’s lovely air Bannockburn. The Corries’ Flower of Scotland is there, while a conciliatory note comes from Dick Gaughan’s Both Sides the Tweed. Jim Gilchrist

WORLD

Mariza

Best of Mariza

Warner

Star rating: * * * *

Mariza’s career has been greatly helped by a long-running publicity campaign to crown her Queen of Fado in succession to the legendary Amalia. In truth there are several other fado singers who are just as good but, as this compilation shows, she has a wonderfully consistent sound. Whether on debut album Fado em Mim, or on one of her collaborations – with Carlos Maria Trindade on Fado Curvo, with Caetano Veloso in Transparente, or flamenco guitarist Javier Limon on Terra – she is inimitably herself. Michael Church