OUR music critics review the rest of this week’s albums
Taylor Swift: Red
WHEN she’s not busy selling cartloads of albums and winning every award going, Taylor Swift endures her fair share of heartache, just like us ordinary folks. And it turns out she has a lot to say about it on her fourth album. The title track takes a synaesthetic approach to her rollercoaster of emotions which she later sums up as “we’re happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time, it’s miserable and magical”. Musically, she oscillates between disposable teen pop with perky attitude and underwhelming MOR ballads with the occasional dusting of banjo in case anyone has forgotten she is considered to be a country artist. Gary Lightbody shows up at one point to paint Red his signature shade of hangdog grey but, even without his help, this is such a protracted listen at over an hour long that you’re, like, so over it by the end.
Poe For Moderns: Music To Scare Your Neighbours with Buddy Morrow & His Spooky Friends
Fingertips Records, £9.99
* * * *
YOUR neighbours are more likely to be scared by a blast of Skrillex at full volume, but fans of Hammer horror kitsch are nevertheless advised to hunt down this altogether ooky Hallowe’en oddity which packages the Buddy Morrow Orchestra’s beatnik interpretations of Edgar Allan Poe poems, including a rhythmic jazz (hands) recitation of The Raven from The Skip-Jacks, and hep Hermannesque orchestral scores inspired by his short stories along with a glorious selection of demonic doo-wop and zombie prom novelty hits from the late 1950s which are dripping in lyrical hokum, monster cameos and creaky sound effects. Cue maniacal laughter…
Huey & the New Yorkers: Say It To My Face
Naim Edge Records, £12.99
JUDGING by the tales of street hassle and women trouble – washed down with just a bit too much booze – on his debut solo album, Fun Lovin’ Criminals frontman Huey Morgan must plan on growing up disgracefully. But far from being unrepentant, Say It To My Face is a melancholic meditation, delivered in the gruff whisper which passes for his voice these days. The New Yorkers provide tight but ultimately rather tame backing on a succession of songs which are a bit bluesy, a bit funky, a bit country and a bit forgettable.
Advent At Merton
* * * *
THE anthems and antiphons that make up this adventurous Advent collection by the Choir of Merton College Oxford offer a broad spectrum of musical response to the pre-Christmas season. There’s the abject simplicity and liturgical warmth of James MacMillan’s Advent Antiphon, David Blackwell’s sumptuously harmonised Lo, how a rose e’er blooming, the chattering anticipation expressed in Matthew Martin’s Ecce concipies, and a whole host of interesting new works that form part of a commissioning programme celebrating Merton’s forthcoming 750th anniversary, as well as earlier works by Byrd and Vittoria. The singing is fresh and opulent, and delivered with a clarity and precision that sits pleasingly with the resonant ambience of the recordings.
Bobo Stenson Trio: Indicum
ECM Records, £12.99
* * * *
Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson and his collaborators, bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Jon Fält, adopt a very different approach to the prevailing rock-influenced model of jazz piano trio ushered in by their compatriots in EST. Stenson, a leading figure in European jazz for the past four decades, prefers an approach based not on raw energy but on subtlety, intricate interaction between the three musicians, rhythmic freedom and a fine concentration on detailed nuances of touch and instrumental timbre within the musical texture. His influences – Bill Evans, classical music, folk – are clearly on parade here, from a cover of Evans’s Your Story to interpretations of tunes by Argentine composer Ariel Ramirez and Denmark’s Carl Neilsen. Those influences, and that wide range of reference, never sound contrived, but are absorbed organically within the overall flow of the trio’s deft, measured and intelligent music.
CALUM STEWART & LAUREN MacCOLL: WOODEN FLUTE & FIDDLE
MAKE BELIEVE RECORDS, £12.99
* * * * *
THIS prosaically titled but utterly delightful album features an instrumental combination we associate more with Irish music, with fiddler Lauren MacColl and flautist Calum Stewart in beautifully poised partnership – as the album’s subtitle suggests, “one breath – one bow”. These players truly know the measure of their music, skipping along elegantly together, with some nicely tempered accompaniments from Éamon Doorley on bouzouki and Andy May on harmonium. There is drive and exhilaration aplenty, without tempi ever being allowed to get out of hand ,and there is a fine old Scots feel to much of the repertoire, as well as some notable original material, including MacColl’s airy, Galician-sounding The Crow Road Croft.
Gentle interludes include Stewart’s beautiful composition, Aizen, inspired by an early-morning moment in Brittany, and an undeservedly obscure piece, A Highland Lamentation, unearthed from James Oswald’s 18th century Caledonian Pocket Companion, that simply hangs in the air like a wistful sigh.
Urna: The Magical Voice from Mongolia
YES, female singers from Mongolia are indeed magical, so it was with keen anticipation that I put on Urna’s disc. As Yo-Yo Ma discovered when he and his Silk Road Project colleagues trawled through Inner Asia, the singing in the Steppes is extraordinary, most of all the Mongolian “long song” style, where the length refers to the duration of each breath rather than of the song itself, and where the variety of timbres the singers can produce – to carry over great distances – can outdo any other style in the world. Urna is based in Berlin, and only goes back once a year to visit her family in Mongolia, but as the liner note tells us her mind is filled with memories – of going to school on horseback, of tending lambs, of rounding up stray animals and of the songs her grandmother sang. She went to study singing in Shanghai, where she decided she didn’t want to sound like all the other students who had ironed out their local styles; so she went back to work with the National Orchestra of Inner Mongolia, which was where the foundations were laid for the music we hear on this CD. Alas, it too reflects an ironing-out of what makes Mongolian music special: she has a lovely timbre, but does less with it than the supporting instrumentalists do with theirs, with the result that her art is damped down and put into the shade.
Soname: Natural Mind
* * *
SONAME Yangchen may come from Tibet, but she grew up in a similar tradition, and though her CD was recorded in Portugal – and has Portuguese instrumental backing – it is much more satisfying, with none of Urna’s band’s irritating virtuosity. This music is largely ballad-style, but very beguiling, and in the bonus track, aided by birdsong and the sound of rushing water, she gives us a real whiff of the music of Central Asia.