Our critics review the best and worst of this week's new releases...
Bon Iver: Bon Iver
4AD, 13.99 ***
THE sleeper success of Bon Iver's debut album For Emma, Forever Ago, recorded modestly in a cabin in Wisconsin, pushed its creator Justin Vernon blinking into the alt.folk spotlight in 2008. Since then, it seems like his plaintive indie folk kin have popped up all over the place, giving this follow-up a sense of heard-it-before familiarity, despite the subtle musical refinements Vernon has made in that time. Bon Iver is predominantly downbeat and mournful but lightly wrought, often making unobtrusive use of pedal steel and horns behind Vernon's signature multitracked vocal chorus. The electronic reverie of Hinnom, TX is particularly soothing, while the mellow 80s keyboard chime of Beth/Rest marks a surprisingly soulful drift into the middle of the road.
Patrick Wolf: Lupercalia
Mercury, 10.99 ***
FROM his urchin minstrel beginnings, this raffish troubadour has progressively courted more of a commercial pop sound with each of his albums. Now with bonus Gaga stamp of approval, this exotic creature has become less a London Morrissey, more a 21st-century Marc Almond, flaunting his flamboyant pop chops to a burgeoning, devoted fanbase, while still celebrating an us-against-the-world vision of urban romance. The best moments on Lupercalia recall the widescreen sweep of the more foppish and pretentious 80s pop bands, dappled with horns and harps – not to mention ondes Martenot, Appalachian dulcimer and the ghostly hum of Cristal baschet, ooh la la – but the songwriting goes a tad limp towards the end.
Jacob Yates & the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers: Luck
RE:PEATER Records, 13.99 ***
ALTHOUGH Jacob Yates, formerly of swampy reprobates Uncle John & Whitelock, wears his influences brazenly – and has helpfully coined the phrase "doom-wop" to describe the resulting sound of Nick Cave, Lou Reed, Tom Waits and poet Jock Scot trying to out-anecdote each other – it is not difficult to warm to the likes of the drunk and belligerent Vessels, the cathartic Cramps-like alleycat odyssey in Glasgow's darkest west end which unfolds with yowling felines, ominous Hammond and a lot of angular twang on Mary Hell and When You Left Me, a rhythm'n'blues slowburner which makes colloquial reference to an incident involving brown sauce. FIONA SHEPHERD
Daniel's Beard play McGuire, Wilson and Dohnnyi
Meridian: 13.99 ***
TO COINCIDE with their live concert series at this year's West End Festival in Glasgow, Daniel's Beard released a debut CD that is every bit as adventurous. The mix is modern Scots and mainstream Romantic, although Dohnnyi's stormy C major Sextet – stunning music as it is – is less well known than it deserves. Here it is played with beefy affection. The big surprise is Edward McGuire's Trio for horn, violin and piano, written when he was 18, but discarded until March of this year when Daniel's Beard gave its belated premiere. Derivative though it is – shades of Vaughan Williams in the slow movement – there is artfulness and clarity of thought in every bar. The Bartk-inspired austerity of Thomas Wilson's Complementi is, indeed, complementary to the other two works. KENNETH WALTON
Avalon Trio: Forlana
Marquetry Records, 13.99 ***
Using classical music as a basis for jazz has been around almost as long as jazz itself, but few outfits have approached that idea in quite as dedicated a fashion as the Avalon Trio (pianist Pete Churchill, saxophonist Tony Woods and drummer Rob Millett). Their specific remit is to explore – and celebrate – the music of English composers of the past century, but using the tools of jazz improvisation. Gerald Finzi's Forlana, Eclogue and Dead In The Cold, Frederick Delius's Summer Night On The Water and Brigg Fair, and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Linden Lea are deftly and imaginatively remade in versions that acknowledge the melodic and harmonic integrity of the originals, while adding their own inventions in pleasing fashion. The disc is rounded out with two of Churchill's own pieces, A Dream of Thee and Last Love, which sit nicely in this context.KENNY MATHIESON
Hilary James: English Sketches
Acoustic Records, 13.99 ****
HILARY James largely lays aside the mandobass she plays with the Mandolinquents to showcase her beautifully pure voice in this genuinely charming evocation of pastoral England, with a couple of Scots interludes. She's accompanied impeccably by fellow Mandolinquent Simon Mayor on mandolin, guitar and fiddle, as well as others including Nick Cooper, whose cello eloquently shadows James's plangent delicacy in Beneath the Willow Tree, while Paul Sartin's oboe sounds perkily through the pastoral jig which bookends the album.
Four poem settings include the beguiling summer languor of Thomas Hardy's Weathers while pipe organ contributes to the olde-English conviviality of Shakespeare's Winter.
Things occasionally get just too nice, notably in a risibly cheerful variant of the hoary old Border ballad The Twa Corbies, about two crows sizing up a new-slain knight as fast food. The Scots ballad Young Benjie is driven with rather more smeddum. Carping apart, though, I find this album pretty irresistible. JIM GILCHRIST
Our Dreams Are Our Weapons - From the Kasbah/Tunis to Tahrir Square/Cairo and Back
Network 495135, 13.99 ****
AS SOUNDTRACKS to revolutions go, this one is impressive, and impressively quickly out. The Arab Spring revolutions didn't involve chains of singers holding hands for hundreds of miles as happened in the Baltic states at the end of Communism: the glue here – the precipitating factor – was the internet. The Tunisian brothers Amine and Hamza composed, arranged, and recorded their oud and zither song N'seyem Tounes (Breezes from Tunisia) in one day, and immediately uploaded it onto the net, and hours later Ben Ali left the country: that's how fast things went. And some of the musicians felt the oppression very directly. Rapper Hamada Ben Amor, aka El General, had seen his song Rais Lebled uploaded and catalysing demonstrations at the start of the uprising, and his reward was to be arrested and imprisoned until Ben Ali was driven out.
But this CD has not been very well put together. By the end of the fourth track I began to feel that the whole thing would be nothing but triumphal Arabic rap and freedom chants, and freedom chants are these days pretty much the same the world over.
But with the fifth track I realised there were more intricate and interesting things here, as the Tunisian singer Alia Sellami launched into a gentle number accompanied by sounds made by blowing across the tops of bottles. "This piece is just an echo," she says, "fed by the noise and the sounds of the revolution. But it is also an echo of the shockwave that emerged from within us."
Other highlights are the tracks from oud-player Joseph Tawadros and his percussionist brother James – exiled members of Egypt's much-persecuted Coptic Christian community – and Al Shaheed ("The Martyr") by Ahmed Farahat. MICHAEL CHURCH