Album reviews: Marianne Faithfull | David Crosby | Baxter Dury

No adieu this, surely, rather an au revoir from a wild child turned magnificent singer of torch songs

Marianne Faithfull
Marianne Faithfull

Debilitated by arthritis, sequestered in Paris, grieving for her late contemporaries in a bygone counter-culture, Marianne Faithfull is almost the Norma Desmond of British pop music. But Faithfull is neither forgotten nor deluded nor plotting a comeback with dud material – instead, her reputation as wild child-turned-grand dame torch balladeer has attracted such illustrious collaborators as Nick Cave and Warren Ellis of The Bad Seeds, Mark Lanegan, Ed Harcourt and PJ Harvey sideman Rob Ellis on production duties.

Negative Capability is a moving and rather magnificent collection which tackles the travails of old age with the eloquent resignation of those final Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen albums. Faithfull takes her time to weave a yarn in her weathered voice, sounding plaintive yet imperious as she beseeches “I know I’m not young and I’m damaged, but I’m still pretty, kind and funny” on the sumptuous noir reverie of In My Own Particular Way.

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But while Faithfull will not go gentle into that good night, she does declare that “to die a good death is my dream” on Born to Live, her poignant piano eulogy for her fellow It Girl Anita Pallenberg. The sense of valediction is compounded by Don’t Go, Faithfull’s plea to a sickly friend to hang on to life, and her melancholic take on the beautiful bile of Bob Dylan’s It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.

She revisits her heartrending 1964 hit As Tears Go By in cracked tones, with a nostalgic pathos she couldn’t muster as a young woman, and turns Witches’ Song, originally released on her lauded Broken English album, into a more tender pastoral incantation.

She returns to its pagan imagery on The Gypsy Faerie Queen, inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with mournful music by Nick Cave, then strikes a more ominous tone on They Come At Night, with Warren Ellis’s customary wailing violin adding to the unease as Faithfull addresses the Bataclan attacks in her adopted home of Paris before subverting the city’s romantic image on the stoic ode to loneliness No Moon In Paris. Surely on this affecting form, it cannot be adieu from Faithfull, but a more hopeful au revoir.

With Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young pronounced dead again, David Crosby has formed a new harmony group with a trio of singers and multi-instrumentalists – Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis and Michael League (of jazz ensemble Snarky Puppy) – who contributed to his previous solo work, Lighthouse.

These latest fellow travellers complement Crosby’s distinctive modal melodic style with a holistic blend of male and female harmonies, reminiscent of Clannad on the gentle folky New Age likes of Glory and of Steely Dan on the jazzy Janet.

Stevens takes the compositional lead with burnished guitar, finger clicks and serene harmonies on Vagrants of Venice and the foursome work up two older Crosby demos, dubbed 1967 and 1974, the latter a fluttering wordless prayer tethered with rhythmic guitar patterns, before going to polyphonic town on Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock.

The son of a Blockhead, a French electronic composer and the frontwoman of London riot grrrls Skinny Girl Diet form the equally fruitful troika Baxter Dury, Etienne de Crecy & Delilah Holliday. There’s no arguing with Dury’s assessment of their debut mini-album as “short, simple and honest”. None of its ten economic but eloquent vignettes last longer than two-and-a-half minutes but you don’t need a vast canvas to make an impact when you can pack such innate character into, say, the 90-second electro wiggle of Centipedes, the small but perfectly formed kitchen sink disco of White Coats or deadpan references to David Cameron, roll-ups and Florence and the Machine into the disaffected monologue Only My Honesty Matters. - Fiona Shepherd


Abbandonata: Handel Italian Cantatas (Vivat) ****

Handel’s Italian Cantatas date from his career-building tour of Italy, in particular a productive stay in Rome during a period in which Papal Decree had banned the performance of opera in the city as penitence for the 1703 earthquake. As such, the composer, harbouring great operatic ambitions, found a restrictive environment for honing his operatic technique.

The four secular cantatas on this disc from Vivat – performed with kaleidoscopic expressiveness by soprano Carolyn Sampson and the The King’s Consort under Robert King’s crisp and energetic direction – are effectively operatic scena, rich in swift-moving dramatic narrative and adorned with arias that live and breathe human anguish and joy. Sampson delights in their inner soul, giving this one-woman show an engaging grace and magnetic integrity.

The ensemble playing is as fleet of foot. And the gorgeous music? A clear indicator of what was to come when Handel went on to conquer London’s opera scene. - Ken Walton


Lionel Loueke: The Journey (Aparté Music) ****

The celebrated Benin-born guitarist and singer Lionel Loueke has created a pared-down but profoundly personal statement, with these minimalist settings for his mellifluous, intimate vocals, recruiting potent contributions from saxophonist John Ellis, percussionist Cyro Baptista and producer Robert Sadin, while regular trio-mates bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth make brief appearances.

While saluting west African heritage, there are also Latin strands, not least the lively Afro-Brazilian marriage of the opening Bouriyan. Tapping deeply into African roots, the explosive peul flute playing of Dramane Dembélé accompanies the cascading of Loueke’s electric guitar in Mandé, Kaba sees nylon-strung guitar chiming and chattering like a kora, while Molika, a tender tribute to Loueke’s children, has soprano sax singing reedily in the background.Dark Lightning, in contrast, loops waspish electric guitars with a multi-tracked vocal, while the album ends simply with an unaccompanied, prayerful incantation, The Healing. - Jim Gilchrist