A roundup of the latest music releases
Texas: The Conversation
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In the eight years since Texas last released an album, Sharleen Spiteri has made a couple of solo albums and guitarist Ally McErlainehas recovered spectacularly from a massive stroke but, boy, do they slip comfortably back into the slick hooks of The Conversation’s title track.
Nevertheless, their eighth album does break some new ground for the band. Seven of its 12 tracks have been produced by Richard Hawley and come swathed in his love of 1950s torch balladry and tremolo guitar. His influence is most lovingly felt on the old school romance of I Will Always and the sultry, melancholic Maybe I; elsewhere they strike a stylistic balance, affording Texas a more organic sound which doesn’t stifle the tunes with overly primped production.
Little Boots: Nocturnes
On Repeat Records, £13.99
UNABLE to make good commercially on the exposure from her BBC Sound of 2009 title, Little Boots, aka electro pop singer/songwriter Victoria Hesketh, has spent the last few years DJing around the world and preparing the follow-up to her underwhelming debut Hands for release on her own label.
Nocturnes is no more likely to grab the imagination, comprising a tasteful, tuneful but ultimately insipid infusion of trance pop, thin Italo house and disco grooves. Kylie’s and Madonna’s careers have been littered with similarly functional fare but Hesketh doesn’t have the budget for the smoke and mirrors required to give the blank, robotic likes of Strangers a lift. Her pure and proper delivery is closer to Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell without the bittersweet edge.
Delta Mainline: Oh! Enlightened
Rehab Sound Recordings, online only
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Edinburgh seven-piece Delta Mainline come out fighting with the bluesy garage attack of Misinformation but are not to be easily pigeonholed on a debut album which doesn’t care too much what you make of it.
The blend of rootsy melody and epic, distorted guitar backing to be heard on Dead Beat Blues and six-minute centrepiece The Church Is Up For Sale is pitched somewhere between Primal Scream and Glasvegas without being as image-conscious as either, while the pounding, gritty Florentine Regime sprints along like vintage Oasis before they bow out on their best number, the tremulous psych country ballad Self Inflicted Ills.
Challenge Classics, £18.99
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Tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Michael Gees are a class pairing when it comes to the heart of German lieder. Not surprisingly then, this new recording of Winterreise is a welcome addition to the many other recordings that exist of Schubert’s autumnal song cycle. Prégardien’s ability to shade and mutate the delicate emotional inflections with almost imperceptible subtlety personalise this account, coupled with Gees’ strong but reflective playing.
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This eponymously titled debut album from the young Manx trio of fiddler Tomás Callister, accordionist Jamie Smith and Adam Rhodes on bouzouki, plus guests, aims to elevate the profile of their island’s music. Players of conviction and passion, they make a fine job of it.
Taking their name from the Manx peak which was, according to legend, the stronghold of the island god Manannan, they deliver She Lhong Honnick Mee – “I Saw a Ship Sailing” – in stirring anthemic form while another traditional song in Manx Gaelic laments snowbound flocks, with Callister’s fiddle nicely following Greg Joughlin’s vocal line, and resonating all too clearly with this freezing spring’s grim impact on hill sheep farms.
Instrumentally, up-tempo material such as the The Girls of Balladoole or theEngage! set are played with terrific zest. In contrast, the fiddle sounds stark and spare over organ-like accordion in the air O My Graih, its origins lost in the mists of time.
Pat Metheny: Tap – John Zorn’s Book of Angels, Vol. 20
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The American guitar master’s second album of the year is another divergence from the familiar Pat Metheny Group orbit, and again involves elements of his mechanical-electronic robotic orchestra, albeit in a very different context to The Orchestrion Project. Metheny and his regular drummer, Antonio Sanchez, are the only musicians on six pieces drawn from avant-garde saxophonist John Zorn’s massive Masada project, inspired by Jewish music, but the guitarist plays a huge range of instruments, from guitars and sitar through keyboards and bass to bandoneon and flugelhorn, and the aforementioned orchestrion.
Each of the six selections is quite different in character, interweaving grinding avant-rock, gentle impressionistic acoustic guitar work and weird electronic soundscapes, all suffused with tangy Middle Eastern melodies and rhythms. It requires careful listening, but has a captivating fascination that grows with repeated exposure.
Rokia Traore: Beautiful Africa
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Rokia Traore has risen to global superstardom over the past 15 years thanks to a combination of her startling good looks and her warm and vibrant voice, and this new album sees her in top form. Born in Mali 39 years ago, she’s the daughter of a diplomat whose work took him round the Middle East and to Brussels where she studied sociology, before embarking back home on her musical career.
As a member of an aristocratic family she had prejudice to overcome – musicians don’t traditionally come from the top drawer of Mande society – but she carved out a niche in Bamako as a singer-songwriter-guitarist, while also playing the ngoni lute and the balafon wooden xylophone. Her big break came when she linked up with Ali Farka Toure in 1997, and her first CD sold 40,000 copies in Europe. Then came the even more successful Wanita, for which she wrote and arranged all the songs; in 2003 she joined up with the Kronos Quartet to produce Bowmboi, and from that point on she was on the Radio 3 radar, winning awards – and appearing at WOMAD – year after year. She has collaborated with the theatre director Peter Sellars, and recently with Damon Albarn, each time roving ever more widely across the art forms.
Admirable though all this is, however, I find myself listening with more pleasure to her early CDs than to this latest one. The voice is richer and darker, which is fine, but the formulae she works to have become pretty much fixed, with her delivering rapid-fire lines against a repetitive choral backdrop. She’s touring as much as ever, but it’s sad to learn that she’s had to relocate to Paris for the safety of her son – so dangerous has war-torn Mali now become.