Snow Patrol: Wildness (Polydor) ***
Ray Lamontagne: Part of the Light (Columbia) ****
Tracyanne & Danny: Tracyanne & Danny (Merge) ****
Randolph’s Leap: Worryingly Okay (Lost Map) ****
Snow Patrol reconvene after a seven year absence, sounding almost breezy in places in the face of a tortuous period of writer’s block for frontman Gary Lightbody which was caused by dealing with addictions and the depression which those addictions masked.
There is a frisson of the fear associated with such intense feelings on comeback single, Life On Earth, but also a degree of self-comforting in its soft, intimate moments. In much the same way as the band gave Lightbody the space to eventually produce the lyrical goods, his bandmates have been keen not to clutter the production but there is still some of that Snow Patrol scale in the beefy but economic drumming and the layered incantations of the backing vocals.
In the end, Lightbody is not short of material – A Dark Switch is a musically upbeat love letter to therapy, A Youth Written In Fire (ironically) a clean song about addiction. He adopts a gravelly tone and a fragile delivery on Don’t Give In, a pretty straight-talking message to self, and there is a similar directness to Heal Me with its multi-tracked acoustic guitars and polished pop appeal.
The angsty piano ballad What If This Is All the Love You Ever Get comes closest to older material and is likely to strike a chord with fans for that very reason but Lightbody sounds more emotionally invested in Soon, where he addresses his father’s dementia. Given what Lightbody has been through, Snow Patrol emerge unscathed from the fallout.
US troubadour Ray Lamontagne is a musician who knows how to kill softly with a song, stealing hearts over the past 15 years with his understated rootsy crooning. Everything is in its right place once again on his seventh album, a heady blend of acoustic minstrelsy and the more sprawling rock soundscapes of 2016’s Ouroboros.
There is a distinct nod to the holistic pop ditties of Cat Stevens as he fa-la-las through the folky To The Sea and on the more muscular 70s power pop of Paper Man. With the twin attractions of slide guitar and soulful vocals, Such A Simple Thing showcases his ability to reel the listener in with a combination of melody and delivery.
He whips up an electric storm of fuzz guitars and foreboding riffs on As Black As Blood Is Blue, which counts as sheer melodrama compared to the understatement elsewhere, before completing the effortless seduction with the epic slowburn of Goodbye Blue Sky.
Camera Obscura frontwoman Tracyanne Campbell and Bristol-based singer Danny Coughlan, who records as Crybaby, have come together as the cryptically named Tracyanne & Danny for this gem of a retro record, lovingly recorded on the vintage equipment at Edwyn Collins’s Highland studio Clashnarrow.
Collins lends his dulcet tones to the symphonic country of Alabama, a tribute to the late Camera Obscura keyboard player Carey Lander, while Coughlan croons the lead on dreamy ballad Jacqueline and Campbell sounds as exquisite as ever against the Spectorish wall of sound of The Honeymooners and the lush strings of It Can’t Be Love Unless It Hurts.
Randolph’s Leap is the indie folk pop alias of Nairn-born, Glasgow-based Adam Ross. His nine stone weakling vocals won’t be for everyone but there is charm and character to spare on Worryingly Okay. The plaintive Unravelled and the forlorn Television have the naïve emotional appeal of Daniel Johnston but Electricity is a lo-fi anthem with aspirations, almost collapsing under the weight of its own arrangement by the end, while the resonant folk pop of Take the Long Way Home provides Ross’s seven-piece live ensemble with something to get their teeth into.
Sibelius & Rachmininov Songs (Linn) ****
Sibelius and Rachmaninov may have been near contemporaries, but they lived either side of the psychological divide that distinguished Russia from its occupied Grand Duchy, Finland, prior to the latter’s independence in 1917. There could be no mistaking the contrast between the heaving Russian spirit of Rachmaninov’s orchestral works and the rugged Finnish nationalism of Sibelius. Nonetheless, both composers wrestled with the emerging modernism of the 20th century, and this is nowhere more evident in their intimate and straightforwardly evocative song settings. Baritone Jacques Imbrailo and pianist Alisdair Hogarth highlight the similarities and contrasts in this delightfully nuanced recording, pitting the absorbing simplicity of Sibelius’ Five Christmas Songs, Op 1 and Five Songs, Op 37, and the heightened ardour of På veranden vid havet and evocations of Säv, säv, susa against the soulful intensity of a Rachmaninov collection that ranges from the adulatory Letter to KS Stanislavsky to the bubbling waters of Vesennije vody.
Ross Ainslie & Ali Hutton: Symbiosis II (Symbiosis Records) ****
Its sleeve artwork may be as enigmatic as a corn circle, but the music of Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton communicates unmistakably, its exuberant fluency inspired by the potent spirit of their mentor, the late, great Gordon Duncan. Their second Symbiosis recording sees the two piper-multi-instrumentalists handle a clutch of stringed instruments as well as Highland and border pipes, augmented by guests on drums, synthesisers and strings. The opening Kings sets the tone, with booming synths and percussion ushering in characteristically fluid whistle-playing and a fierce chatter of pipes. Despite intermittent electronica, there’s an organic feel to the music, entirely composed by Ainslie and Hutton bar an eloquent interpretation of Tommy Peoples’ Beautiful Goretree.
In contrast is the trance-dance energy of the Action set, while mellow whistles lead a gently coasting commemoration of Hutton’s late grandfather, Mr Alistair Kennedy of St Anne’s.