Kyle Falconer: No Thank You (Riverman Records) ****
Cowboy Junkies: All That Reckoning (Proper Records) ***
Dirty Projectors: Lamp Lit Prose (Domino) ****
The feral energy of Dundonian indie rockers The View is to be revelled in at a time when their fellow pop stars have rarely seemed more slick, well-behaved and dull. But then how do you tame that energy offstage?
For many years, View frontman Kyle Falconer allowed the chaos to spill over into his personal life. His voracious drinking and drugging had his band barred from the US at a crucial breakthrough point and only last year he was fined £25,000 following a homophobic air rage outburst.
The birth of his daughter was the wake-up call to clean up his act and the making of his debut solo album was the creative outlet he needed to deal with his demons. In choosing to write and record without his bandmates, Falconer is now musically as well as personally liberated to pursue his more melodic MOR pop proclivities and the wryly titled No Thank You is slathered in luscious easy listening string arrangements.
Widescreen opener Poor Me is based on the Alcoholics Anonymous mantra “poor me poor me pour me another drink” and is typical of the lush backdrop against which Falconer makes a series of candid admissions and desperate pleas. See also the breezy retro pop strum of The Therapist and the personal anguish of Confusion set to a melodic saunter.
But there is also dark humour in the soaring string-soused Jekyll Down My Hyde, a colloquial term for watering down liquor, which Falconer appropriates as a note to self about tempering his destructive behaviour, and Family Tree, the jolliest of jingles on which he reflects that “the pipe takes me to heaven, the pipe puts me in jail, so I’ll stick with the Vimto”.
It’s clear why Falconer needed to make this album but what’s in it for View fans? Only some of Falconer’s best tunes and vocals to date.
Canada’s revered moody blues outfit Cowboy Junkies return to mark the 30th anniversary of their breakthrough Trinity Session album with their first new material in six years. All That Reckoning opens by bidding us “welcome to the age of dissolution,” a line the band have been saving up for the right moment.
It seems the time is ripe for a political as much as personal reckoning but what could have been portentous is rendered mysterious and persuasive as singer Margo Timmins outlines a pattern for living on When We Arrive and ponders the thin line between fear and hate on The Things We Do To Each Other.
These are big broad concepts delivered with customary understatement and intimacy, though they kick things up a notch with the burnished blues guitar of Sing Me A Song (“about life in America”), a missive for their nearest neighbours, and keep a steady hand on the tiller on the progressively stormier All That Reckoning Part 2.
You may know experimental rockers Dirty Projectors from that concept album about the whale, or their “glitch opera” about Don Henley, or their Black Flag tribute with songs recorded from memory but, if not, you can catch up on those later.
For now, mainman David Longstreth has released the most flagrantly poppy album of his career with a bunch of guest vocalists, including Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold and Rostam Batmanglij, late of Vampire Weekend, who join Longstreth on beautiful bucolic love ballad You’re The One, and Haim who cameo on the acoustic R&B chimes of That’s a Lifestyle. From the Philly soul blast-meets-Afrobeat of I Feel Energy to the smoky jazz of (I Wanna) Feel It All, Lamp Lit Prose is a summer breeze and a sonic treat.
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Sweet Sister Suite (Spartacus Records) ****
The SNJO chalks up another triumph with this recording of music its director Tommy Smith commissioned from the late trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler two decades ago. Wheeler’s complex but melodically rich music is eloquently championed here, as the orchestra glides, simmers or erupts alongside guest soloists – trumpeter Laura Jurd and Glasgow-based Greek singer Irini Arabatzi.
The suite opens auspiciously in Sweet Sister, with Jurd’s plaintive flugelhorn joined by Arabatzi’s wordless vocalising while in Worlds Apart, Arabatzi’s chanting signals in unison with Rob Luft’s guitar, the band murmuring with controlled power. Limpid vocals and piano introduce Keeper of the Light before Smith’s tenor sax glides in, while other SNJO regulars deliver with customary verve, such as Martin Kershaw’s soprano sax echoing the vocal line in Constant Star. -Jim Gilchrist
Sibelius: Orchestral Works (Linn) ****
Whichever orchestra he has under his control, Thomas Søndergård makes Sibelius sound the way it should: naturally flowing, pungently colourful and free of forced rhetoric. Here he is with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in a collection of works that are both familiar to our ears (En Saga, Finlandia, The Swan of Tuonela, The Oceanides and Valse Triste) and intriguingly unfamiliar (the item suite of incidental music for Adolf Paul’s play King Christian II).
The five movements that make up the last of these are a treat in themselves. The opening Nocturne is an absolute gem, serene, evocative, and richly melodic. Søndergård teases out every ounce of quiet passion.
The Elegy is like a welcome extension of the Nocturne, but the Musette soon sharpens the tone with its bucolic wit. An opulent sunrise opens the Serenade, before the rough and tumble of the Ballade. A fascinating score. -Ken Walton