“I will bang this drum ’til my dying day,” affirms Billy Corgan amidst the martial rat-a-tat of Drum + Fife, and it sounds as much a threat as a promise.
Monuments To An Elegy
(BMG Rights Management)
Star rating: **
For more than two-and-a-half decades the Chicagoan grunge-era singer and guitarist has driven Smashing Pumpkins, on and off, and that doesn’t look like changing. In typically bombastic style, this new record is actually the middle chapter in a three-record, 44-track “album cycle” named Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, which was started in 2012 with Oceania and concludes next year with Day For Night.
Given such ambition, the new record is a significant achievement considering that Corgan has spent the last couple of years wrestling with the band’s personnel issues. With the group having shed members almost as rapidly as Mark E Smith’s Fall, reports suggest that guitarist Jeff Schroeder was the only full-time member to have played here, with former Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee drafted in to assist. As such, these nine tracks sound similar to Smashing Pumpkins of days gone by, but their satisfyingly melodramatic bombast has now been stretched paper thin.
The opening Tiberius at least strides in on a noisy clash of guitars, but by the next song, Being Beige, Corgan has resorted to the pop and hiss of acoustic guitar and drum machine to smooth over the bland histrionics. His distinctive voice, halfway between a holler and a whine, still sits best amidst loud guitars, and tracks like One And All and Anti-Hero are the most successful. Where he diverges into Marilyn Manson-style post-Gary Numan electronics on Run2Me, Monuments and Dorian, however, his vocal power is curtailed and impetus is lost.
Download: One And All, Anti-Hero
Music Industry 3, Fitness Industry 1
Star rating: ****
It’s uncertain which of their number has been lost to good health, as that title suggests, but Glasgow’s Mogwai are certainly on a winning streak as far as their music careers are concerned. Fresh from the critical acclaim of their Les Revenants soundtrack and the commercial success of this year’s eighth album Rave Tapes, which entered the UK top ten, this bridging EP sees them unleash possibly their most commercial track yet. Titled Teenage Exorcists, it hurtles by on wind tunnel guitars and a vocal (unheard of in Mogwai songs) which repeats the brainworm mantra “it’s all dark and uncertain / an apology accepted”. It’s backed by History Day and the amusingly titled HMP Shaun William Ryder, both more typical but no less affecting instrumentals, and three remixes from Rave Tapes. DP
Download: Teenage Exorcists
Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra
Sirens Of Song
Star rating: ***
As usual with television’s premier ringmaster of blues, world and mid-range rock music, Jools Holland’s latest recorded project under his own name is a nexus of big-name showbiz guests from Joss Stone to Eartha Kitt, expertly played and produced classic rock with a heavily jazz-inflected piano lead, and commendable levels of self-indulgence. Here he corrals a procession of female singers for a series of original compositions and classic interpretations, and as much as a lot of it echoes the ivory-tinkling, back-patting of Holland’s massed musical intros to Later…, there are some truly classy performances here: listen out for Emeli Sandé’s smoky rendition of Love Me Or Leave Me, the late Amy Winehouse skanking through Monkey Man and Kylie Minogue on a breathy Should I Stay Or Should I Go. DP
Download: See-Line Woman, I Still Went Wrong
The Melody Lingers On
HighNote HCD 7269
Star rating: ****
He may have just turned 80, but American tenor saxophonist Houston Person shows no signs of slowing down and is still recording and touring as prolifically as artists half his age. This new quartet CD finds the big, fat, soulful Person sound being applied to a diverse collection of tunes, some of which (notably a bossa Only Trust Your Heart) are familiar from his live performances, while others are new compositions. A major aficionado of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart compositions, Person boldly swings My Funny Valentine and saves his considerable balladeering skills for the less well-known You’re Nearer as well as Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered, which is effectively a duet with vibes player Steve Nash. Alison Kerr
Download: You’re Nearer
Catriona McKay & Chris Stout with Seamus Begley
Begley, McKay, Stout
McKay Stout Music MSM003CD (available only at Coda Music and performers’ websites)
Star rating: ****
The dynamic Shetland harp and fiddle duo combine with one of Ireland’s great singers and accordion masters and create many moving traditional pieces, including a couple of planxtys by O’Carolan, amid reels, polkas and hornpipes – all enhanced by the deliciously warm vocal phrasing of the man from Kerry. Stout sings too! He does well on a song from the northern islands, but Begley is at the emotional heart of the album, which he sings into through Annan Waters and leaves up in Scotland’s north-east, among Tramps And Hawkers. Norman Chalmers
Download: Peggy Morton
Manuel Barrueco, Beijing Guitar Duo
Star rating: *****
Apart perhaps from their revolutionary political history, China and Cuba might seem to have little in common culturally, although Havana contains one of the oldest Chinese communities in Latin America. So for Cuban-American guitarist Manuel Barrueco, a recording partnership with his protégés the Beijing Guitar Duo affords the opportunity to combine music from East and West, and also to record work influenced by the relationship between the two. The playing is subtle and atmospheric, whether performing a three-guitar transcription of Bach’s Sonata No 6, works by Charlie Chaplin (including a theme from A Countess From Hong Kong), those of Chinese composer Chen Yi, whose China West Suite is inspired by folk songs from different Chinese ethnic groups, or Sérgio Assad’s The Enchanted Island, inspired by the Havana Chinatown. Charming music played with evident skill.
Download: Astor Pizzaolla: Fuga Y Misterio