Album reviews: The Charlatans | Gaz Coombes

The Charlatans. Picture: Contributed

The Charlatans. Picture: Contributed

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THE Scotsman’s music critics review the latest album releases, including new records from The Charlatans, Alasdair Roberts and Gaz Coombes

The Charlatans

Modern Nature

BMG Rights Management

Star rating: * * * *

There’s a sad but hopeful irony in the fact that the Charlatans only seem to get more optimistic as each new tragedy strikes them.

Having lost keyboard player Rob Collins in a 1996 car accident at the height of the Britpop era, they now release this 12th album in the wake of their drummer Jon Brookes’ death from a brain tumour in 2013.

Modern Nature is perhaps quieter and more contemplative than the work they’re most known for, but it’s not a record which suggests its creators – in particular, sunshine-voiced lead singer Tim Burgess – have been cowed.

Co-opting The Verve’s Pete Salisbury, New Order’s Stephen Morris and Factory Floor’s Gabe Gurnsey as stand-in drummers, the Northwich-formed group have adopted a more reflective, modest gait this time out.

“I feel strengthened by your presence,” croons Burgess to an unknown friend or lover during the opening Talking In Tones, which sounds like the Byrds played through a breezy baggy-era filter.

The most upbeat moments on the record come at the start, including So Oh, a cheery wash of pealing guitar and Hammond organ, and the infectious positivity of Come Home Baby, its joyous choral call to a separated lover in times of strife one of the most Charlatans-sounding things here.

The mood becomes more introspective after this, with the sauntering soul of Keep Enough, In The Tall Grass’s smoky jazz arrangement and Lots To Say’s twinkling acoustic balladry positioned alongside the vaguely disco-funk Let The Good Times Be Never Ending and straightforward indie-rocker Lean In. That they still exist is a wonder; that they create music this good is a joy. David Pollock

Download: Come Home Baby, Let The Good Times Be Never Ending

POP

Alasdair Roberts

Alasdair Roberts

Drag City

Star rating: * * * *

Eight albums into his solo career, Stirlingshire-raised folk singer Alasdair Roberts has finally named an album after himself. It’s a choice that usually suggests something definitive, and this time that might be down to the fact these are all original compositions rather than reinterpreted historical folk songs. The combination of Roberts’ warm, reedy voice, his softly plucked guitar and occasional, unhurried choral harmonies places their style beyond much contemporary folk, but in the protest song, The Final Diviner, (“we’ll lay the toys of warfare down / break any law that would restrict us”) and the mournful tale of poverty, In Dispraise Of Hunger, there are thoughtfully measured contemporary references. DP

Download: Artless One, The Final Diviner

Gaz Coombes

Matador

Hot Fruit/Caroline

Star rating: * * * *

It’s hard to avoid recalling the impudent heyday of mid-table Britpoppers Supergrass upon spotting the photo of their singer, Gaz Coombes, on the cover of this, his second solo album since their 2010 split. Posed in mock shock, it speaks more to the ephemeral cheek of Alright than the creditable maturity of his current sound, which sees his faculty for memorable pop music drawn out to more thoughtfully epic lengths, first on the trip-hop-with-guitars of Buffalo and on through the energised Krautrock of The English Ruse, Detroit’s driving motor-folk and Seven Walls, where he sounds like Coldplay with soul. The likeable density and variety of the music is only enhanced by the knowledge that he played it all himself. DP

Download: Buffalo, The English Ruse

JAZZ

Joe Albany

An Evening With Joe Albany

Steeple Chase Productions SCCD 31794

Star rating: * * *

A story goes with this record, as Damon Runyon would have said. American pianist Joe Albany (1924-1988) is a sort of cultish figure, a rarely recorded pianist who was a post-war favourite of Charlie Parker and Lester Young but who was never as well-known or recorded as he might have been had he not been preoccupied with feeding his drug habit, dodging the law and breaking his probation. The subject of a forthcoming film (based on his daughter’s memoir), Albany was clearly inspired by Art Tatum, and had – on the evidence of this recording, made at a 1973 gig in Copenhagen – a full-on, rather florid style and a penchant for the Ellington songbook. Alison Kerr

Download: Who Can I Turn To?

FOLK

Inge Thomson

Da Fishing Hands

Inge Thomson Records IT002

Star rating: * * * *

Fair Isle is a remarkable place for traditional knitting, birds – and

music. Inge Thomson grew up there as the fishing declined and this

album is a response to a new demarcation of local fishing grounds the “Hands” – and a heartfelt appreciation of her wordsmith cousin Lise Sinclair, who tragically died while in collaboration on the project. The songs and music are emotive, poetic, salty, musically imaginative and waywardly modern, with just one of the ten tracks in the old Fair Isle dialect. Using four guest musicians/friends, this record, like Inge, is unique. Norman Chalmers

Download: Song For Sheep Rock

CLASSICAL

Johannes Brahms

Ein Deutsches Requiem

Hänssler Classic CD 98.038

Star rating: * * * * *

Composed over a seven-year period that included his mother’s death, Brahms’ A German Requiem stems from Lutheran rather than Catholic tradition: its name suggests that it sought to be evidently different from the Catholic Mass for the Dead as written for by Mozart and Cherubini, and later by Berlioz and Verdi, among others.

Brahms himself suggested the reference to “German” could be replaced by one to “mankind”, although this might have made it sound more doom-laden than it actually is. This recording by

Helmuth Rilling and the Gächinger Kantorei and Bach-Collegium Stuttgart (both of which Rilling founded) is clear-cut and classy. It manages to give the same weight and authority to the solo elements as to set piece choruses, so that the former are never under-played, the latter never pompous. Highly listenable, thoughtful music-making. Alexander Bryce

Download: Ihr Habt Nun Traurigkeit

INTRODCING: GARDEN OF ELKS

The three members of Garden of Elks are drawn from a sort of holy trinity of Scottish noise rock – PAWS, Bronto Skylift and Lady North. Niall Strachan, Ryan Drever and Paul Bannon sound much as you’d expect given their roots, but their distorted chaos comes with an Elliott Smith-like sensibility.

Their debut album, A Distorted Sigh, is released by Song, by Toad Records on 6 April. Buckle up for pop rock at its most elemental, driven by no-holds-barred enthusiasm.

You can find out more about the band at garden-of-elks.tumblr.com and soundcloud.com/gardenofelks. A Distorted Sigh is out on 6 April. Hamish Gibson

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