THE Scotsman’s team of music critics provide their take on the latest musical releases.
Nik Kershaw: Ei8ht
Shorthouse Records, £11.99
FAIR play to Nik Kershaw for bothering to produce a new album when he is poised to embark upon a tour marking the re-release of his 1984 debut album Human Racing (the one with most of the hits), but that is where the kudos ends.
In less conservative hands, this desperately dull MOR pop album might yield an insipid hit or two – there is a sniff of a memorable chorus on the throwaway You’re The Best and a spot of irritating sub-Robbie Williams quirk on Stuff – but Kershaw’s arrangements drain the life from the songs. Just when you think it can’t get any worse than the faux-Celtic whimsy of Red Strand, along comes Enjoy The Ride with its embarrassing dad lyrics.
Zeus: Busting Visions
So Recordings, ONLINE ONLY
THE first few minutes of this album – also its lead single – sounds so much like some The Who number from the early 1970s that you may want to reach for the publishing and copyright info on the sleeve. But be assured that Busting Visions is definitely a product of 2012, and Canadian quartet Zeus are not some bunch of revivalist longhairs. Nope, they can effortlessly pastiche 60s beat pop and 70s bubblegum too, with tunes and hooklines so buoyant and natural that their retro inclinations cease to matter. They don’t yet sound like themselves, but with such finely honed pop chops, that time will surely come.
The Music of James MacMillan, Vol 1
Challenge Classics, £13.99
IT’S wonderful to have on disc such a vividly sensitive version of James MacMillan’s celebrated percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel conducted by the composer himself (soloist Colin Currie already appears on one of the previous recorded versions). But in this first volume release of an ensuing 4-disc series, with MacMillan directing the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra in his own music, the real focus lies in the first ever recording of A Deep but Dazzling Darkness, a work he wrote ten years ago for solo violin, ensemble and tape. The soloist is Gordan Nikolic, whose intense playing strikes at the heart of the haunting, wailing opening, but equally thrills as the music’s ecstatic climax builds and subsides. Also featured here is the atmospheric strings and percussion soundscape of the earlier A Meditation on Iona. Expectations for a seminal forthcoming series are high.
Roller Trio: Roller Trio
F-IRE Records, £12.99
Saxophonist James Mainwairing, guitarist Luke Wynter and drummer Luke Reddin-Williams are Roller Trio, the latest band to emerge from the free jazz-meets-indie rock wing of the Leeds music scene, following in the path of the likes of If Destroyed Still True and trioVD. As befits a band who cite Antony Braxton and Queens of the Stone Age among their influences, there is a lot going on here in the way of driving energy and kaleidoscopic stylistic and rhythmic shifts, often on any given tune. They can blast out fiery, skronking free jazz with the best of them, with Mainwairing’s tenor saxophone pushed into sonic areas that don’t exist in any textbook, but prove equally at home in much more lyrical, slow-burn territory, as on The Zone or A Dark Place To Think. An exciting debut, and with the promise of even more intriguing adventures to come.
HOW WE ONCE WERE
SELF-PORTRAIT RECORDS, ONLINE ONLY
SIMON Kempston’s densely worded songs are freighted with angst and regret. They’re delivered in his distinctively tremulous vocals and finely framed by the delicate fretwork of his own fingerstyle guitar, fellow guitarist Louie Robertson and bassist Marty Camino, with lyrical violin from Adam Nash and discreet percussion from Rory MacDonald.
Diaphanous, Nordic-toned fiddle strains introduce the whimsical melody of Careless Interventionist (also introducing backing vocals from Inge McIlroy) while A Young Soldier in Fort George and Fair Game drive along dramatically. In the ominously-toned Black Dawn, meanwhile, I detect Kempston’s blues-playing alter ego Man Gone Missing creeping in, with steely guitar work and moody fiddle from Nash.
Kempston delivers with feeling, although his querulous, clipped tones skip and slur over words, sometimes little more than an anguished cry in the dark, making me grateful that his lyrics are printed on the CD sleeve.
The Big Eyes Family Players & Friends:
Folk Songs II
Static Caravan, £10.99
DESPITE claiming to know nothing about folk music, James Green, the multi-instrumentalist who leads Sheffield-based chamber folk ensemble The Big Eyes Family Players, has returned once more to traditional song on this downbeat album, inviting even more singers to perform their folk standard of choice. Several have gone for a seafaring theme. Adrian Crowley makes morose work of the valedictory ballad Greenland Bound, while Heather Ditch combines a pure, light delivery with a hint of the darkness below on The Clyde Water.
Overall, it’s not much of a party, but fans of kindred participants James Yorkston and Alasdair Roberts will appreciate their instinctive feel for the material.
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