The Low Highway
New West, £13.99
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Gruff and gritty, Steve Earle has been telling it like it is for decades, and here he is as frank and fearless as ever.
Musically he may have mellowed since travelling the Copperhead Road all those years ago, but songs such as Invisible reek of righteous anger the same as ever.
Calico Road and Warren Hellman’s Banjo are country with the cute cut out, Burnin’ It Down and the mildly confrontational That All You Got? are big on attitude which Steve continues to have in spades. Agitpop is alive and well, albeit with a receding hairline and bushy grey beard.
Download this: Calico Road, Invisible
Commercial Marketing, £14.99
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One half of Underworld releases a solo record far removed from the hedonistic days of Born Slippy and suited to a more sophisticated palate than lager and more lager. The sumptuous but sparse textures of Cut Clouds flirts with ambient excellence familiar from the late John Martyn’s Small Hours, and wilfully obtuse The Boy With The Jigsaw Puzzle Fingers intrigues with a lo-fi mystique.
There are more lax moments, however, where the listener can drift away on the unanchored ambience of it all. The focus will doubtless return when he reunites with bandmate Rick Smith.
Download this: Cut Clouds, The Night Slips Us Smiling Underneath Its Dress
Blue Duchess BDCD003, web only
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Billie Holiday was a singer beloved by instrumentalists, and one whose distinctive repertoire has been celebrated by such wonderful, lyrical musicians as Ruby Braff, Chet Baker and Bobby Wellins. Now tenor saxophone giant Scott Hamilton offers his take on ten Holiday classics, in the company of his new, hard-swinging American trio/quartet. As ever, his big, soulful sound is a joy on the ballads, notably God Bless The Child and Good Morning Heartache, and it’s also a treat to hear Holiday’s 1930s small group hits getting the Hamilton stamp.
Download this: Fooling Myself, God Bless The Child
Eric Bogle with John Munro
A Toss Of The Coin
Greentrax Records CDTRAX375, £12.99
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The man from Peebles, now a national figure in Australia, hasn’t thrown in the towel just yet. He has cut down the tours but has just released another album to satisfy his welter of fans. And they must by easily satisfied – as there’s little going on here that taxes either brain or heart.
The lyrics follow his usual pattern and celebrate the disabled servicemen of Afghanistan with a shot at Thatcher (Home Is The Hero), the bush firefighting of the Strathewan Fire Brigade (Ashes), or the Irishman who maintained the entire graveyard where his son was buried (Song For Jim). I agree with Bogle when he says on the sleeve that he’s getting more sentimental in his old age.
Download this: Don’t Throw Away Your Dreams
Edward Elgar/Elliott Carter
Elgar & Carter Cello Concertos
Decca 478 2735, £13.99
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Today, Elgar’s Cello Concerto is regarded by cellists with a respect it never received in its early years, especially after its poor initial reception in 1919. Acoustics and a lack of rehearsal played their part, with audiences unable to catch much of the subtle interplay between soloist and orchestra. This studio recording with Alisa Weilerstein as soloist, and Daniel Barenboim conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin, avoids the error of inaudibility: if anything, it rather overplays the orchestra’s part.
Elliott Carter’s Cello Concerto, in a live recording, is more complex and less immediately appealing. Nevertheless, this is an interesting pairing that will repay repeated listening.
Download this: Elgar: Lento – Allegro molto