Album reviews: Deacon Blue | Ryan Adams

LIKE many bands who have taken another swing at this whole rock’n’roll malarkey, Deacon Blue’s post-reunion career has lasted longer than their original incarnation when they firmly established themselves as Scotpop treasures, laying the creative and commercial groundwork on which they could trundle on into their doteage should they so desire.
Deacon BlueDeacon Blue
Deacon Blue



Star rating: * * *

Deacon Blue - A New HouseDeacon Blue - A New House
Deacon Blue - A New House

But that doesn’t quite seem to be the plan. Instead, Deacon Blue appear to be soaking up their second life with alacrity and appreciation.

Their 2012 album The Hipsters was like a comeback within a comeback, a self-activated wake-up call comprising their first new material in more than ten years, an excited reunion of old pals which sparked memories of a shared, invincible past and sloughed off the dead skin like a rejuvenating spa treatment.

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A New House is thematically less concerned with getting the old gang back together and more with stepping out and forging ahead. While not quite as strong on songwriting as its predecessor, it is still full of the joys of spring – both musically and lyrically on a number of tracks which drink in the natural world.

Rolling drums and piano strike up an enthusiastic momentum on opening number Bethlehem Begins while For John Muir, dedicated to the Scots-born naturalist and conservationist, offers wide-eyed, stirring sentiments about the exhilaration of the wilds.

The title track bottles that sentiment and gives it the personal storytelling touch. Ricky Ross allows himself some nostalgia for the memory of watching a new house go up in the suburbs and mines the hopes associated with new beginnings. It is no secret where his referendum sympathies lie but he keeps the closing chant of “a new home/start/way/place/day” light and spirited. Likewise, Our New Land is gentle and sentimental, like an MOR One Day Like This, rather than a fist-pumping rallying cry.

The whole album is lightly optimistic in tone and even unafraid to gush a little. Sometimes I Wish I Was A Girl Like You is sweet, carefree pop with a light garnish of funky guitar and disco strings. I Remember Every Single Kiss is breezily nostalgic but not weighed down by memory. The lovely string-soaked pop ballad is what romance sounded like circa 1976, while Wild recalls the cheerful power pop of that era and March the blithe, rootsy new wave of Graham Parker and the like.

Deacon Blue may take it easy overall but there’s a collective twinkle in their eyes.


Ryan Adams: Pax Am

Star rating: * * *

Creative powerhouse and restless spirit Ryan Adams continues to spin plates at an industrious rate. Last year he formed punk band Pornography and he recently released the garagey 1984 EP on vinyl. But this new self-titled album is the mainstream Americana flipside to his underground missives, full of comfortingly familiar fare, from the tasty Tom Pettyish roots rocking of Stay With Me to the bittersweet balladry of My Wreckin Ball. However, it never quite touches the songwriting heights of predecessor Ashes & Fire, and stoops at points to bland radio fare which Adams could write in his sleep. FS

Tricky: Adrian Thaws

False Idols

Star rating: * * *

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Despite his zeitgeisty origins in Bristol’s trip-hop scene, Tricky’s music has barely aged in the 20 years since his debut so it’s quite the surprise to hear his adult daughter Mazy make a fleeting, sultry appearance on the closing track of Adrian Thaws (Tricky’s real name). Elsewhere, there is an almost reassuring consistency to his woozy noir soundscapes and scab-picking lyrics. Grime rapper Bella Gotti spits invective on the Massive Attack-sampling hip-hop cover Gangster Chronicles and Prodigyesque rock/rap bruiser Why Don’t You, but Irish-Italian vocalist Francesca Belmonte remains his wingwoman of choice, softening the album’s edges on a number of moody, broody and mellow tracks. FS


Dvorak: Symphony No 6 & American Suite

Harmonia Mundi

Star rating: * * * *

No need to look much further than the opening of Dvorak’s Symphony No 6 for a Bohemian melody that will lift your spirits. And in this meaty, rich-grained performance by the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra under its US chief conductor James Gaffigan the entire flavoursome quality of the playing – robust and characterful – melts instantly in the mouth. There’s a golden lyricism throughout, and a sense of momentum that is slick but unhurried. The inclusion also on this disc of the Suite in A major, the so-called “American Suite”, laced with gentle Wagnerisms, is a perfect partner piece. KEN WALTON




Star rating: * * * *

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In some respects this is an extraordinary album, from an alarmingly mature-sounding 20-year-old English singer and guitarist who manages to sound straight out of the American-influenced English folk revival of the late Sixties. Just the guitar-picking intro to the opening London Road induces a wee frisson of being whipped back four decades to the seminal albums of Bert Jansch, Ralph McTell and their contemporaries. Sunjay’s straightforward delivery of Going Down the Road is reminiscent of Jansch, with a nice harmony from Sarah Smout sounding like something from a different age, then there’s the rockabilly holler of Drop Down Mama, Dan Owen’s harmonica squalling away nicely, and the agitated blues of John Hiatt’s Memphis in the Meantime. In contrast are sweetly melancholy old chestnuts like Tom Rush’s No Regrets, and James Taylor’s Close Your Eyes. It’s all highly engaging if at times uncannily derivative sounding. It will be fascinating to hear just what Sunjay sounds like when he truly finds his own voice. JIM GILCHRIST


Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra: Clarinet Gumbo

Lake Records

Star rating: * * * *

The Uddingston-based drummer has filled many roles on the Scottish jazz scene, but his Classic Jazz Orchestra is his major achievement as a leader and arranger. For this project he has teamed up his excellent eight-piece outfit with the current leading figure in the New Orleans clarinet tradition, Evan Christopher, in a joint celebration of that tradition and a further exploration of the less familiar music of Jelly Roll Morton, an ongoing fascination for the drummer. His own Fazola and an ingenious arrangement of Charles Mingus’s Jelly Roll are added for good measure. The playing of both their guest and the band regulars maintains a consistently impressive standard. Mathieson’s artful arrangements are unfailingly apposite and imaginative, taking an approach to the material that is both highly authentic and subtly seasoned with more modernist nuances, but above all hugely enjoyable. KENNY MATHIESON


The Art of the Mongolian Yatga


Star rating: * * * *

A zither with movable bridges, the yatga was traditionally played at the medieval Mongolian court; it is still played in the Altai mountains today. Chinbat Baasankhuu, who grew up in this remote and beautiful region connecting Mongolia with Russia, China, and Kazakhstan, trained as a musician in Ulan Bator where she became a professor of the yatga. Under her fingers its sound is indeed reminiscent of the Chinese guqin and the Japanese koto to which it is related, but her artistry has a fiery Central Asian edge as she plays this lovely collection of pieces old and new. MICHAEL CHURCH