Album reviews: Dido | Kate Nash | Robyn Hitchcock
DIDO: GIRL WHO GOT AWAY
If she has undergone any great personal upheaval or discovered a taste for transgressive art, it certainly hasn’t found its way into her music. Girl Who Got Away comprises 11 tracks of immaculately recorded, mainly mid-paced inoffensive electro-infused coffee table pop musings. Her blank delivery makes it difficult to care about the kitchen sink concerns of, say, Happy New Year or the hypnotic dub wobble of Love To Blame. Brian Eno and rapper Kendrick Lamar join the tame (dinner) party.
KATE NASH: GIRL TALK
Have 10p Records, £13.99
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CATERWAULING Kate is the anti-Dido. If you’ve been wondering what happened to that nice girl in the vintage dresses who sang Fingertips, brace yourself – she’s grown claws to match those cat ears she’s started wearing and dashed off a slew of songs which oscillate between incontinent sub-Lydia Lunch riot grrrl screeching and pretty girl group melodies, sometimes in the space of one track. A bit more craft would be welcome, such as can be heard in the rhythmic Tom Tom Club-influenced Rap For Rejection, but her lyrical blend of strength and insecurity presents a more rounded and less cynical picture of girlhood than the mixed messages sent by Rihanna or Beyoncé.
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: LOVE FROM LONDON
Yep Roc Records, £12.99
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FORMER Soft Boys frontman Robyn Hitchcock has just turned 60 but, as he notes: “Rock’n’roll is an old man’s game now, so I’m staying in it.” Rather than celebrate with some nostalgic revisiting of his back catalogue, he has produced an album of new material with lo-fi charm, wit and his signature whimsical-yet-punkish vocals. I Love You is psychedelia on a shoestring, Devil On A String crunchy, pacey beat pop, while things take a darker, more twisted turn on the Bowie-meets-Beatles Fix You – absolutely nothing to do with the Coldplay song of the same name, though there are a couple of mundane moments here all the same.
MCKENZIE SAWYERS DUO: THE CORAL SEA
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ESTABLISHED Scots duo saxophonist Sue McKenzie and pianist Ingrid Sawyers explore here the classical contemporary world of soprano sax writing. From Gabriel Jackson’s extensive and meditative The Coral Sea, its inspiration coming from Patti Smith’s poem of the same name, to Gavin Byars’ Allegrasco, via the chirpy mischief of Graham Fitkin’s Gate, the languid jazz-infused Alma Venus of Nicky Iles, and two commemorative works – Trier and Memorial – by the usually boisterous Mark-Anthony Turnage, the sense of tonal variety is both surprising and illuminating. McKenzie’s playing is touching and beautifully-crafted. Sawyers supports that with sympathetic finesse.
DONALD BLACK: DREAMS & DANCES
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THE humble moothie is elevated to fresh eloquence by Scots harmonica stylist Donald Black, whose sook an’ blaw skills are deployed here in the sympathetic company of musicians including Blazin’ Fiddles’ Allan Henderson, who also produced the album, Allan Nairn on guitars and mandolin and Harvey Leckie on keyboards.
There is a crisp, dance band sound to much of the album, particularly in up-tempo material such as The Inevitable Journey, a fine reel which hammers along over rollicking, Cape-Breton-style piano, a rolling set of pipe jigs and the jaunty 6/8 march Gneil’s Welcome to Strathnaver.
A medley of slow waltzes also has a distinct dancefloor feel to it, Black lingers with unashamedly heart-tugging vibrato on Gaelic airs such as the lovely An t-Eilean Muileach and Mar a Tha, while his barn dance set will have you back up, skipping about the living room.
TOMMY EMMANUEL & MARTIN TAYLOR: THE COLONEL & THE GOVERNOR
Mesa/Bluemoon Recordings, ONLINE ONLY
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IT’S a simple enough formula – take two virtuoso guitarists who are also mutual admirers, pick a varied bunch of compatible tunes, and let them just play together in acoustic mode. The result is guitar playing of a very high order, made to sound deceptively relaxed, with the occasional verbal exhortations and exclamations – and even exuberant bursts of song from Tommy Emmanuel – adding some off-the-cuff spontaneity to their intricate fingerwork and arrangements. Martin Taylor’s jazz influence is apparent in the selection of several standards – Jersey Bounce, Lullaby of Birdland, The Nearness of You – and excursions into Django Reinhardt-influenced gypsy jazz, but they cover a fair bit of ground in terms of stylistic input, and do all of it with the style and flair expected of two such notable exponents of their instruments.
CARMEN SOUZA: KACHAPUDA
CARMEN Souza is already well known to the world-music community in Britain after successful WOMAD appearances and two acclaimed albums. This third – named after cachupa, the soul food of her Cape Verdean homeland – will reinforce her presence, and will also underline how far she has come since, as a teenager in Lisbon, she sang in the Lusophone Gospel Choir and started to listen to the jazz musicians whose art she has now incorporated into her own. Her heroes include Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Ella Fitzgerald, and you can catch echoes of them in her singing, which sails along with sparky accompaniment from a small jazz combo. All but two of the lyrics are her own. So why I am not bowled over? I think it’s because the borrowings are just too obvious – the vocal persona is too twee, too transparently constructed, and the Billie Holiday croakings are a real pain. But there’s no questioning the sophistication of her artistry.
ZÉ LUIS: SERENATA
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It’s a relief, though, to get back to some genuine Cape Verde music from Zé Luis. Born 60 years ago in the capital of the Cape Verdean island of Santiago, he grew up among plantation workers whose songs he learned. The subject matter is traditional – poverty, longing for home, missed loved ones – and the song forms are those first made popular by the great Cesaria Evora: principally mornas and coladeras. This is the first album he has made for an audience outside his homeland: against a simple acoustic accompaniment of guitars and percussion, plus a small backing group of singers, his warm and vibrant tenor speaks from the heart to the heart. Let’s hope he gets a WOMAD invitation too.