HE makes reference to “smokin’ my green” on the lacklustre pub-funk of comeback single Scream (Funk My Life Up), and there’s no question that Paolo Nutini’s muse once more harks back to classic rock’s era of herbally assisted megastars, whose sonic explorations are now embedded in our musical heritage.
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Where his past albums have turned on the style of fellow white men from decades past singing the blues, however, this third record opens up its musical and vocal influences to the American soul greats, taking Nutini’s sound to new places.
Indeed, the first track and single is the only real dud here, with the following Let Me Down Easy raising the stakes – a smooth, skanking soul duet with Janelle Monae. The song’s latter reaches see Nutini invoke the word “redemption” with such pointedly mimicking syllables that it’s as if he’s trying to incant a prayer to raise Bob Marley from the grave.
The album goes on to veer between styles, from the rickety Hammond funk of Numpty and the gospel croon of Someone Like You to the hip-hop joke track Bus Talk (Interlude) and the epic balladry of One Day and Better Man (the latter rather brilliantly incorporating Charlie Chaplin’s speech from The Great Dictator).
It’s a record which at once meets every expectation placed upon the 27-year-old Nutini’s shoulders – that his influences show through, his music is consciously aimed at older listeners as well as his own generation, and his voice is blessed with such a gravelly tone it’ll make you want to clear your own throat – while throwing many of them out. His delivery is often strikingly powerful, his songs creditably memorable, and his co-production of this record suggests a man comfortably in control of his own direction. Download: Let Me Down Easy, Better Man
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Glasgow power-trio the Amazing Snakeheads make refreshingly few concessions to the notion of mainstream likeability. “She’s more beautiful than any woman I’ve met / and she f***in’ knows it,” roars Dale Barclay on the opening I’m A Vampire in a thickly-accented voice which wouldn’t sound out of place shrieking down the high street late at night, and the tone of these “ballads” is set.
They hammer together swamp rock, psychobilly, staggering post-bar-fight balladry and a cathartically visceral guitar sound, and the air of menace is raw and thrilling. Download: I’m A Vampire, Every Guy Wants to Be Her Baby
Call To Mind
The Winter Is White
Olive Grove, online only
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Highland-formed, Glasgow-based quintet Call to Mind are a couple of months too late with this, their debut album on independent Scottish label Olive Grove, sometime home of Woodenbox and Randolph’s Leap. Filled with slowly crashing guitars and a soothing lead falsetto from Martin Ross which trickles like a stream down a mountainside, their sound is redolent of the depths of winter, calling to mind a more rustic, Hebridean version of Sigur Ros on songs like Energy // Blast and Breathe, both of which feature the Cairn String Quartet. It’s a debut of real emotion and rich promise. Download: A Family Sketch, Passing Drumochter
A Thousand Kisses Deep
Trail Belle Records TBR03, £13.99
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Irish singer Tobin introduced the material on this album of Leonard Cohen songs at the inaugural British Vocal Jazz Festival at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – and the concert was one of the highlights of the event. With her gutsy, powerful voice and unfussy yet passionate style, Tobin (above) turns each song into a vivid story or portrait, and has strong accompaniment from her trio, led by guitarist Phil Robson, which is augmented to include accordion on several tracks, bringing a chansonesque feel to the proceedings. Download: Tower of Song
Glimster Records GLMCD3, £13.99
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As the annual Edinburgh International Harp Festival draws to a close, here is a complex array of self-penned and trickily-fingered new pieces by Scotland’s leading small harp performer/composer. The accompanying sound of the pedal-organ or harmonium is also layered in, again played by McKay. Well known as the keyboard player in Shetland-based band Fiddler’s Bid, she is also no stranger to the variety of contemporary musical genres and here allows her imagination to wander freely down graceful rhythmic side-roads and through sparkling harmonic showers. Though technically challenging for any harp player, the music is so dynamic, well expressed and full of life that it wholly unfolds only after repeated listening. Download: Roof of the World
Ein Deutsches Requiem
Naxos 8.573061, £6.99
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Brahms’ Requiem is one of those works that deserves to be heard much more often. It is certainly on a dramatic par with parallel works by Mozart, Verdi or Fauré, as well as those by more modern composers such as Britten, with stirring set-pieces dotted throughout, here powerfully performed by Antoni Witt with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir and soloists. Brahms’ work might come from a Lutheran rather than Catholic tradition but there is no missing the depth of feeling, faith and
sincerity underlying a work whose starting point was the death of the composer’s mother in 1865. Brahms tried to avoid overt Christian sentiment in selecting his texts, preferring to think of this as a “human” rather than “German” requiem. The result is thoroughly satisfying. Download: Track 6: Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt