THE Scotsman’s music critics review the latest album releases icluding Raintown, the Philip Clouts Quartet and Karen Matheson
Tom Robinson: Only the Now
Star rating: ***
Tom Robinson has been semi-retired from music for the last 20 years, forging an alternative career as a respected radio broadcaster. But he returns with a feisty new folk-punk album in the nick of time, taking on inequality in The Mighty Sword of Justice, religious radicals in the raucous Merciful God and corrupt bankers in Risky Business with a little help from his equally politicised muckers Martin Carthy, Billy Bragg and TV Smith.
There’s also Sir Ian McKellen as the voice of God – beside a number of Robinson’s quieter meditations which are touching in their vulnerability.
Raintown: Writing on the Wall
BMB Records UK
Star rating: **
Were it not for that clue of a name, you would swear that Raintown hail from Nashville, so faithful is this commercial country (re)production with its lyrical references to small town beauty queens and “Garth on the radio”. Writing on the Wall sells a sanitised sound and a romanticised lifestyle as all conformist Nashville players do. But husband and wife duo Paul and Claire McArthur-Bain hail from Glasgow, a city which loves its country music, from classic to contemporary, and the AOR ballad Missing You is their sentimental response to the Clutha tragedy.
Dunedin Consort: Bach Magnificat
Star rating: *****
This is yet another astonishing triumph by Professor John Butt and his Dunedin Consort. Scholarly originality is the clincher: a reconstruction of Bach’s first Christmas Vespers in Leipzig with the wonderful Magnificat as central focus.
Butt uses the earlier E flat version of the Magnificat, one that possesses instinctively richer solutions than the better-known D major version. Its contextual placement within a liturgical sequence encompassing the exuberant Christmas cantata Christen, ätzet diesen Tag, a Gabrieli motet, relevant Bach Chorale Preludes and congregational chorales (courtesy of an augmented congregational choir) is revelatory. The musicianship is exquisite; the emotional impact is immediate. This is world class, and it’s made in Scotland.
Philip Clouts Quartet: Umoya
Star rating: ****
Although not overtly Afro-jazz, the lean and limber music generated by the Dorset-based, South African-born pianist and his incisively rhythmic quartet is nevertheless heavily informed by the music Clouts heard growing up. He’s accompanied by saxophonist Samuel Eagles, bass guitarist Alex Keen and drummer Dave Ingamells, all of whom he brings to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dunfermline and Aberdeen from 26-29 October (see www.philipcloutsquartet.co.uk).
Eagles’s sax establishes its presence right away over infectiously bouncy bass and drums in the opening Lila. The African groove kicks in irresistibly in Walking In Starlight, with Clouts switching to electric piano to create a cool vibe over Ingamells’s insistently tapping drums, then returning to acoustic piano for the nicely strutting gospel blues of Meandering.
That Clouts is clearly a man for melody is demonstrated in the European folk-influenced Taranto and Amor, piano and sax entwining nicely in the latter, similarly by the title track (named after the Zulu for “life force”), or the deliciously loping township jive of Direction South.
Karen Matheson: Urram
Star rating: ****
In her first solo album of purely Gaelic material, Karen Matheson delves into her family’s past, their songs and others gleaned from archive recordings.
At the same time she’s enlisted the musicianship not only of usual suspects such as husband and producer Donald Shaw on piano and Ewen Vernal on bass, but the strings of Mr McFall’s Chamber and the more exotic sounds of Seckou Keita on kora or African harp-lute, and Indian slide guitarist Soumik Datta.
The result combines the personal with some highly cosmopolitan connections.
Matheson’s singing is as warm-toned and beautifully nuanced as ever in songs such as the yearning of Eilean Fraoich or Cadal cha dean mi.
Occasionally there’s a risk of over-egging the pudding, as when a waulking song risks smothering in lush strings and the plangent whine of sarod.
Elsewhere however, Keita’s kora rings effectively through a Barra flyting song while the ensemble builds up a fine head of steam as east and west skip together through some puirt à beul.