Christine and the Queens: Chris (Because Music) ***
Eddi Reader: Cavalier (Reveal Records) ****
Mull Historical Society: Wakelines (Xtra Mile Recordings) ***
Now that French performer Heloise Letissier has introduced herself as Christine and the Queens, impressing many with her lean electro pop, androgynous image and elegantly choreographed routines, she skips the formality on Chris, a second album which drops its guard lyrically to allude to adventures in sexuality and exploration of gender roles.
Her Christine is an interesting creation, drawing somewhat on the feminine strength of Annie Lennox and the candid toughness of Madonna, even though her electro- pop musings on gender identity are delivered without either stridency or swagger.
Instead, Chris is all sleek, gleaming surfaces and Gallic understatement. The tech-funk number Comme Si is executed with sufficient aplomb, Doesn’t Matter is a sparse, rhythmic meditation on faith, on which Letissier keeps the music simple and flowing but allows herself the indulgence of some choral backing vocals and Goya Soda hints at interesting sonic ideas in borrowing from African and liturgical choral traditions.
But only the insidious pop funk of the album’s first single Girlfriend really gets under the skin and lingers in the mind. Expect her absorbing choreography to carry the rest.
Letissier may be terribly hip and of the moment but Eddi Reader understands the timeless and universal appeal of a sad story and a moving song.
Following her own mainstream pop adventures in the Eighties and Nineties, she has carved a place for herself as a beloved interpreter of the songs of Robert Burns, but one can really appreciate the breadth of her abilities as an interpreter on this eclectic collection of songs old and new, borrowed and blue.
Cavalier features pretty waltzes, wistful laments, traditional songs from a collection she inherited from her uncle and originals in the old style, written by Reader and her husband John Douglas, which are suffused with empty nest melancholy.
Everything is recorded live yet sounds sumptuous and scrumptious, whether the feather-light jazzy woodwind on the luminous Maiden’s Lament, the Seventies pop influence on the chiming Wonderful, the new wave bop of the title track, the romantic waltz of Starlight, the sonorous, yearning piano lament of Deirdre’s Farewell to Scotland or the dreamy easy listening of Maid o’ the Loch, dedicated to the long-serving Loch Lomond pleasure boat, before Reader and band round off with a lush arrangement of A Man’s A Man For A’ That.
Colin MacIntyre, mostly known in his musical capacity as Mull Historical Society, has of late developed a parallel career as an author, with much of his writing inspired by his island upbringing. He brings his storytelling skills to bear on his eighth album, creating a series of nostalgic snapshots of his childhood and adolescence on Mull.
The upbeat title track was inspired by his memories of his father, the late broadcaster Kenny MacIntyre, leaving Mull every week to work at the BBC, while the unapologetically sentimental 14 Year Old Boy concerns the happy day when MacIntyre Sr returned to the island bearing the gift of a guitar for his son.
These pop vignettes are dispensed with a rough and ready production by former Suede guitar ace Bernard Butler, as if he doesn’t want to tamper too much with the delivery of the tale. Butler is generally not known for his restraint though, and he adds some heroic Neil Young-style riffing and piano flourishes to the pacy Wetlands Urban Fox.
MacIntyre’s vocals can sound strained but here he delivers a trio of softly rendered gems in the tenderly orchestrated Little Bird, breathy, wistful Somewhere In Scotland and gentle, aching New Day Dawning.
Sean Shibe: softLOUD – Music for Acoustic and Electric Guitar (Delphian) *****
Sean Shibe is one of those bright young virtuosi who see programming as an act of creative challenge and responsibility rather than dull routine. Don’t be fooled by the initial delicacies on this disc – arrangements of music from four early Scottish lute manuscripts. Though beautiful and simple in their own right, and played with gorgeous sensitivity by Shibe in his own guitar arrangements, they are merely the start of an absorbing aural journey that treads gently into the 20th and 21st centuries with James MacMillan’s dreamy From Galloway and his meditative Motet I from Since it was the Day of Preparation, before awakening to the multi-tracked minimalist haze of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, Julia Wolfe’s gallus LAD (raw-edged and written originally for nine bagpipes), and David Lang’s violent Killer, where heavy metal collides head-on with the classical avant-garde.
Hannah Rarity: ’Neath the Gloaming (Own Label) ****
The current Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year’s much-anticipated debut album showcases her crystal-clear delivery of traditional or contemporary folk material, plus a couple of her own compositions. Her voice soars right from the opening Moon Shined on my Bed Last Night (although it doesn’t really need those drums), and there’s a steady drive to the album’s title song, an Aberdeenshire pastoral romance.
Rarity can tell a tale with dramatic articulation, even in more up-tempo numbers such as the witch ballad Alison Cross. She’s at her unadorned best, however, in Lady Nairne’s timelessly beautiful Land o’ the Leal (delivered with poise and delicacy and with gently restrained piano and fiddle from John Lowrie and Sally Simpson), the lovely Braw Sailin’ on the Sea and Hallowe’en, Violet Jacob’s heartbreaking evocation of rural ghosts and guisers that coalesces into a lament for her war-dead son.