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Album review: The Civil Wars | Moderat | Red Hot Chili Pipers

Joy Williams and John Paul White of the Civil Wars at the Grammys. Picture: Getty

Joy Williams and John Paul White of the Civil Wars at the Grammys. Picture: Getty

“IT’S not what you do to avoid the tension, it’s what you do with the tension,” singer Joy Williams has said in the run-up to this second record from Nashville’s triple Grammy-winning Civil Wars, a duo who were last seen towards the end of last year cancelling tour dates amidst stormy talk of “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition”.

The Civil Wars

The Civil Wars

Columbia, £14.99

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As unlikely as it seemed at the time, Williams and singer-guitarist John Paul White have persevered and put that album out there, although it may be a little disheartening for devoted fans and rubberneckers alike to hear that the tension’s largely absent.

There are flashes of the group whose 2011 debut Barton Hollow stormed to success in America, in the moody, parched slide guitar twang of The One That Got Away. Williams’ hearty chorus of “Oh I wish I’d never seen your face / I wish you were the one that got away” promises the first of many moneyshots in terms of a band potentially chronicling their last days in mid-fracture. Yet the record – much as their career could well do from here – merely maintains a holding pattern through the grizzled but less substantial I Had Me A Girl.

Through the breathily wistful Same Old Same Old, the by-the-numbers AM radio balladry of Dust To Dust and Eavesdrop and the so-so country gospel of From This Valley, things have hit a rut from this potentially most affecting of vocal combinations. There’s a late rally from the strikingly plaintive and exuberant Oh Henry and the delicately somnambulant Disarm, a version so bent to this pair’s will that it’s a couple of verses in before you realise you’re listening to the Smashing Pumpkins song. Yet these are exceptions on a record which sadly fails to make full use of the huge talents at its disposal. David Pollock

POP

Moderat

II

Monkeytown, £18.99

* * *

The combined project of a German trio of producers who work separately as Apparat and duo Modeselektor, Moderat’s second album is at once subtle, futuristic and in places decidedly beautiful. At times their style’s perhaps too out-there – as when Milk’s warm and densely distorted beats build up into a layer of punishing fuzz – but when they hit their mark it really works. Amid a bunch of instrumentals which cleverly blend experimentation with the thumping immediacy of bass music from dubstep to drum ’n’ bass, Bad Kingdom and Damage Done are stand-out, soulful ballads. DP

Download: Bad Kingdom, Damage Done

Thriftstore Masterpiece

Trouble Is A Lonesome Town

Sideonedummy, £13.99

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Recreating Lee Hazlewood’s 1963 conceptual country and western debut album in its entirety is a singular curio of a project from producer Charles Normal, yet its guest stars make the record. There’s Pixies frontman Frank Black’s distinctive holler on Long Black Train and the car chase twang of Run Boy Run; Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock on the Zappa-esque barroom funk of The Railroad; Art Brut’s Eddie Argos on the proto-punk Peculiar Guy; and Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor lending some perfunctory growling to Look At That Woman. They don’t make ’em as weird as this any more. DP

Download: Long Black Train

JAZZ

The Buck Clayton Legacy Band

Claytonia

BCLB001, £15.99

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Listening to this CD, a recording of a concert at the Gateshead International Jazz Festival in 2011, makes the Scottish, “mainstream” jazz fan inclined to send a copy to the directors of one of our festivals, as this kind of jazz is thin on the ground up here. Co-led by bass-playing broadcaster and biographer Alyn Shipton, this nonet – which features Alan Barnes on alto sax and clarinet – celebrates the music of the Basie trumpeter who left a box of his original music to Shipton when he died. Shipton and saxophonist/clarinettist Matthias Seuffert formed a band to play Seuffert’s arrangements. The results are great fun, a fitting testimony to the elegance, wit and lyricism of Clayton. Alison Kerr

Download this: Outer Drive, I’ll Make Believe

CLASSICAL

George Gershwin

Rhapsody In Blue, Catfish Row

Naxos 8.559750, £5.99

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Film portrayals of composer-pianists – Chopin, Gershwin, even Ivor Novello in Gosford Park – tend to show small groups of well-dressed fans gathered appreciatively round the piano while the composer shows off his skills. The recording atmospherics of this CD, featuring music by Gershwin for stage and film, brings solo performances front and centre, whether performed on the piano, clarinet or banjo. This is a polished recording by JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Symphony, with an especially fine rendering of Rhapsody In Blue, bringing out much colour and tonal balance to make it sound new-minted. The overture for Strike Up The Band, in a contemporary arrangement, displays its musical-theatre beginnings, with its roll-call of show tunes, while Promenade, one of several arrangements of Walk The Dog from Shall We Dance, reveals unexpected depths. Alexander Bryce

Download this: Promenade

FOLK

Red Hot Chilli Pipers

Breathe

REL Records RECD593, £13.99

* * * *

They’ve been expanding lungs and opening the ears of worldwide audience for a decade; now the Scots “bagrockers” release a fourth album. It is their most interesting yet, filled with thoughtful changes and harmonic shifts, in Kings of Leon, Michael Jackson and ZZ Top covers; there’s less of the blistering reels and more structured, medium to slower-paced rockin’ rhythms. Brass and sax are blasted in like wedges with lecky guitar, bass and keys over driving drums and percussion. Yes, it’s ear candy with pipes, but all performed with great precision, swinging stagecraft and obvious fun and enjoyment. Norman Chalmers

Download this: Fix You

 

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