An impressive roster of contributing artists give The Charlatans’ new album extra heft, without diluting their distinctive sound or sunny outlook
The Charlatans: Different Days BMG ***
Tinderbox Orchestra: Tinderbox self-released ****
Mitchell Museum: The Everett Trap Self-released ****
Nothing, it seems, can derail The Charlatans – not the departure, imprisonment or even death of various band members over the years has impeded their outwardly sunny disposition. Misfortunes which would have caused other acts to implode have failed to floor this lot.
What’s more, the band are enjoying something of a creative purple patch. Previous album Modern Nature, released in 2015, ranks as one of the best in their 27-year catalogue. Different Days is another offering which subtly shifts their goalposts without the fanfare or PR conceptualising of, say, the latest pop missive from Primal Scream.
It’s the first Charlatans album to bear the absence of original drummer Jon Brookes, who passed away in 2013. But Brookes’s legacy is honoured by a couple of esteemed guest drummers, The Verve’s Pete Salisbury and New Order’s Stephen Morris, who really is the man you want behind a kit in a crisis. Consequently, Different Days is driven, though not dominated, by its rhythms.
Morris is joined by his partner Gillian Gilbert on happy hippy mantra The Same House, and there are additional guest contributors all over the shop, including actress Sharon Horgan on backing vocals and spoken word interludes from Ian Rankin and Lambchop mainman Kurt Wagner, which slot in comfortably without cluttering its natural flow.
Like Modern Nature, it’s a mellow affair, inviting rather than demanding attention. Opener Hey Sunrise is a blissed-out salutation, blending their signature Hammond organ with starburst synthesizers on the middle eight. And so it goes in calmly propulsive psychedelic style.
Current single Plastic Machinery is closer to the conventional indie dance hooks of old, beefed up somewhat by guitar-for-hire Johnny Marr. Paul Weller, also singing from the same soothing psychedelia songsheet these days, co-wrote the gentle, expansive bookend Spinning Out. If anything on Different Days makes it on to the Charlatans must-playlist, it will be this blissful yet bittersweet analgesic.
For something altogether more invigorating, turn to Tinderbox Orchestra, a community music project on a different scale than most. Founded in 2010, this amateur orchestra emerged from workshops with thousands of young people in the Edinburgh area and crams over 200 performers onto their self-titled debut’s curtain-raiser Bethany Lane. As well as the orchestra, riding high on a wave of tremulous disco strings, an all-ages gospel choir and local rappers contribute to the rock’n’roll rawness of the performance.
Collaborating with professional musicians and composers, they summon the spirit of Alice Coltrane on space jazz odyssey Quetzalcoatl, with its sighing strings and siren vocals, twinkling percussion and apocalyptic bass sounds. Captain Beefheart’s Memorial Picnic is composer Richard Worth’s orchestral tribute to music’s experimental mavericks, featuring heavy funk rock guitar and impish woodwind. There are strong echoes of the chamber pop of David Axelrod throughout, plus the pastoral prettiness of Rimo, klezmer character of More and a spirited folk collaboration with Edinburgh Youth Gaithering, before the slowburn coda of Aftermath, written by one of their own players, Graham Coe. A trip on a grand, ambitious and stimulating scale.
Glasgow’s Mitchell Museum emerged from nowhere in 2010 with their dashing debut The Peters Port Memorial Service but went to ground before you could say “best new band in Scotland”. Seven years of break-ups, relocations and side projects later, belated follow-up The Everett Trap is another effervescent gem, recorded via transatlantic Skype sessions, and influenced by the finest of US indie, from the immersive, repetitive patterns of Animal Collective to psych pop elation of The Flaming Lips.
Ravel & Falla Hyperion ****
Ravel’s piano concertos are more than simply tuneful treats, a point strikingly made by pianist Steven Osborne and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in this fresh new disc. In both the popular jazz-infused G major Concerto and the hybrid and virtuosic Left Hand Concerto, Osborne’s enquiring mind captures every aspect of Ravel’s creative palette – its robust energy, lyricism, subtle wit and wistful colourings. Osborne is partnered by conductor Ludovic Morlot, whose control of the SSO is wholly empathetic. The gorgeous slow movement of the G major Concerto is deliciously tempered and shaped, the outer movements bristling with life. Deeper emotions are conjured up in the Left Hand Concerto.
Separating the Ravels, Osborne treats us to the exotic scents of Noches en los jardines de España, three Spanish musical portraits for piano and orchestra by Manuel de Falla. Debussy’s influence dominates.
Donald Black: Bho m’Chridhe Own Label ****
The album title means “From My Heart” and that’s just how it comes over. Donald Black, doyen of Highland harmonicists, returns and sounds in his element, drawing on Highland pipe repertoire to vivify the heel with crisp 2/4 marches, pipe reels and schottisches, or bringing unabashed sentiment to Gaelic waltzes and slow airs.
He’s in sterling company – regular accompanist Malcolm Jones as well as guest musicians from near and far, including Scottish country dance stalwart Addie Harper Jnr, Highland folk heroes Allan Henderson and Skerryvore’s Alec Dalglish, as well as Mario Collosimo from Cape Breton Island, who provides expansive piano for Mary K’s Waltz, while Nashville’s Charlie McCoy adds second harmonica to Blair Douglas’s country-ish New Island Waltz. The Irish air Bruach na Carraige Báine is truly lovely, while pipe reels collide entertainingly with blues harmonica in Highland Express.