Our critics review the week’s album releases
Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy: What The Brothers Sang
* * * *
WITHIN the first minute of this masterful and often sublime tribute to the music of the Everly Brothers, the sound sweeps seamlessly from Dawn McCarthy’s intimate, heartworn intro to a lush, epic swell of harmonies, strings and pedal steel and you know you are in safe hands. What The Brothers Sang is perfectly pitched, whether capturing the uplift of those 1970s pop country productions (think Glen Campbell) on Milk Train or the folk duo hues of My Little Yellow Bird. With a talented supporting cast of players, McCarthy and the redoubtable BPB also go as rootsy as you like on the ballad What Am I Living For and make an infectious cry for help on the country rocking Somebody Help Me. A joy from start to finish.
Jamie Lidell: Jamie Lidell
* * *
THIS fifth album from Huntingdon-born, Nashville-based Jamie Lidell is as lovingly crafted an homage to 1980s electro funk as the most recent Mark Ronson album. Prince and Cameo are the main influences at this party, along with a dash of Bowie circa Scary Monsters on I’m Selfish and any number of Jam & Lewis productions on You Naked, while the bass drops on What A Shame wouldn’t be out of place on a gleaming dubstep track. Lidell has more impressive soul vocal chops than many of his more fêted R&B contemporaries but is so keen to create a particular sound palette that the emotion, if intended in the first place, is swamped by all the fun he’s having in the studio.
Iceage: You’re Nothing
* * *
THIS band of teenage punks from Copenhagen have been turning heads since their self-proclaimed New Brigade debut and it’s not difficult to hear why on this follow-up. You’re Nothing jumps off the decks with wrecking intent. The band alternates between foreboding martial advance and headlong attack on Morals and delivers spiky, post-punk angularity on Wounded Hearts, while singer Elias Bender Ronnenfelt combines urgency and belligerence with a certain nonchalance, coming over like a cross between Joe Strummer and Jimmy Pursey on Everything Drifts. But invigorating as it sounds, the buzz doesn’t last the way it might at a gig – to do that with an album, they really need stronger songs.
Mark Lockheart: Ellington In Anticipation
Subtone Records, £12.99
* * * *
ENGLISH saxophonist Mark Lockheart approaches the music of Duke Ellington in exploratory style, rather than reproducing it simply as repertory music. He reimagines several Ellington staples in imaginative fashion with an excellent contemporary septet, featuring fellow reed players James Allsopp and Finn Peters, pianist Liam Noble, violinist Emma Smith, bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Seb Rochford. That combination allows him to explore both the individual qualities of the soloists and the textural richness of the music in true Ellingtonian fashion, while remaining pleasingly intimate. They give a fresh twist to such well-known tunes as It Don’t Mean A Thing, Come Sunday, Take The A Train and Creole Love Call. Four of his own compositions – including My Caravan, which refers to Juan Tizol’s famous melody only in the final ensemble chorus – push the creative reinvention to even greater lengths.
OWN LABEL, web only
* * * *
CRUINN are James Graham, Fiona Mackenzie, Rachel Walker and guest Irishman Brian Ó hEadhra, who deliver the kind of quality you’d expect from each of these established Gaelic singers – plus a couple of real surprises. Producer Jim Sutherland allows individual voices to shine within the harmonic group warmth, with sparely deployed additional instrumentation from Matheu Watson, bassist Euan Burton and Sutherland on percussion.
The standard is set by the opening delicacy of A Phiuthrag ’s a Phiuthair, while a distinctly Clannad-ish sonority echoes around Walker’s Gun Dòchas. Hopping across the Irish Sea comes Ó hEadhra’s wistful emigrant song, Faoiseamh, while Graham leads a vigorous waulking song from the Cape Breton diaspora.
Less expected is a Gaelic translation of a beautiful Hungarian song, sung in mellifluous dialogue between Walker and Ó hEadhra, while the most improbable yet arguably most striking track is Mackenzie’s beguiling intonation of Òran Celia, better known as that old English chestnut, Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes.
The Creole Choir of Cuba: Santiman
Real World, £13,99
* * * *
IF CLAUDIO Monteverdi were to revisit planet Earth and make a tour of its choirs, I guess he would feel particularly at home with the Creole Choir of Cuba. For here he would recognise the same love of muscular harmonies, the same delight in unaccompanied voices, and the same thrills of complex polyphony of which he himself was a master. With each CD this choir puts out, their art becomes more fine-honed: here one can sense not only Cuba (in rhythms) and South Africa (in textures) but also the European classical tradition. Which is not surprising, given that all ten members have studied music to university level in Camaguey, Cuba’s third city.
The language they sing in is Creole, Cuba’s second language which fuses African, French, and other tongues, and their Cuban name – Desandann – literally means “descendants”. Their music is rooted in the slave trade to Haiti, and in the second slave trade which saw their ancestors shipped on to Cuba by their French masters after the Haitian revolution of 1790; other Haitians arrived in the 20th century, fleeing poverty and oppression under Papa Doc and the Tonton Macoutes. Two years ago they testified to their enduring relationship with their spiritual homeland by doing long tours of Haiti after the great earthquake, giving workshops for children as well as formal concerts.
Intermittently accompanied by piano, flute and trumpet, the songs on Santiman – many handed down through their familes – blend yearnings for freedom with salty folklore. Some songs evoke the experience of being adrift on the ocean, others invoke the healing qualities of medicinal plants, one bewails an unwanted pregnancy, another warns of the malign consequences (for Haitians) of the loss of a hat. But it’s all sung with ineffable grace.