Album reviews: Texas | The Unthanks | Jim Malcolm

WHAT’S a veteran band to do when it’s time for that career retrospective or anniversary release?
Texas' Sharleen Spiteri. Picture: ContributedTexas' Sharleen Spiteri. Picture: Contributed
Texas' Sharleen Spiteri. Picture: Contributed

Texas: Texas 25


Star rating: ***

Roll over and accept plans for a straightforward greatest hits? Or re-record your back catalogue?

To celebrate a quarter century as the (sporadically) toppermost of the poppermost, Texas have opted for the latter gambit. It’s more work but it’s also more fun. So, while fans and casual observers purchasing the deluxe two-CD edition of Texas 25 get one disc of hits (mostly culled from the band’s late-Nineties purple patch) in their original form, the main event is CD1, The Truth & Soul Sessions, comprising four brand- new Texas songs and eight of their biggest and generally best hits entirely re-recorded with the fine session players from New York’s Truth & Soul Records, whose previous credits include producing soul men Aloe Blacc and Lee Fields, writing for Adele and remixing Amy Winehouse.

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The results may lack the pop punch and energy of some of the original renditions but the warmth and, for want of a better term, vibe is turned right up. So the bland Say What You Want is far sultrier in its new iteration and much closer to the mellow Memphis soul sound the band were paying homage to first time around.

Halo also responds well to treatment. Again, this new recording doesn’t steamroller like the hit version but allows the groove to breathe, and carefully layers on burnished guitars, warm horns and Motown backing vocals. Spiteri sounds like an enraptured soul queen at the centre of it all.

Inner Smile is even better, with the addition of plangent chiming guitars, while The Conversation’s stealthy hook is enhanced with psych blues guitar. Debut hit I Don’t Want A Lover is treated with kid gloves, Spiteri’s expertly pitched vocal to the fore, and Summer Son is transported to warmer climes with a choppy reggae rhythm on the verses.

The new songs just aren’t of the same calibre. The sleepy Start a Family is softly rendered with some understated slide guitar and organ embellishments but its intimate sentiments translate blandly. Supafly Boy soups up its Sixties bubblegum pastiche with gospelly backing vocals and some psychedelic guitar licks. Say Goodbye is effectively a rewrite of Say What You Want and Are You Ready drifts by, barely registering an impression. It’s unlikely these four will make the cut for the Texas 50 compilation.


The Unthanks: Mount The Air


Star rating: ****

Barring live albums and special projects, it has been four years since The Unthanks released an album but Mount The Air won’t be hurried. The haunting title track, soundtracked sparsely with lilting fiddle and mournful trumpet, is one of two ten-minute numbers, attesting partly to pianist Adrian McNally’s prog rock proclivities and partly to Rachel and Becky Unthank’s gift for storytelling. Madam marries a soft folk melody to stately piano, Flutter unsettles Becky’s breathy voice with skittering drum patterns and the dark harmonies of Magpie are supported by harmonium hum.

Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear

Bella Union

Star rating: ****

Former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman considers his second album in the guise of twisted troubadour Father John Misty to be “indulgent, soulful and epic”. It’s a spot-on assessment. I Love You, Honeybear is a concept album “about a guy named Josh Tillman” which tips its wings to symphonic pop songwriters such as Harry Nilsson, Rufus Wainwright and John Grant. Like Grant, Tillman is a sardonic romantic, an crooner with a sharp tongue, sprinkling his swelling MOR melodies and lush arrangements with often caustic lyrics about life, love and shallow encounters. The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt is an especially acidic anecdote wrapped in a cosy kaftan. FIONA SHEPHERD


William Faulkes: Organ Works


Star rating: ****

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Edwardian organ music works firstly when it is good quality, and secondly when it’s played with self-belief on an instrument whose sound palette suits the genre. The organ music of William Faulkes (1863-1933), played on this tribute disc by Duncan Ferguson in St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh, is certainly of its time, from the beefy Festival Prelude on Ein’ feste Burg and homely Fantasia on Old Welsh Airs, to a fluttery arrangement of Rubenstein’s saccharin Melodie in F. But add the pristine craftsmanship of Faulkes’ writing, his solid harmonic technique, and they are genuinely imaginative. Ferguson’s playing makes the most of the rich colours of the St Mary’s organ. KEN WALTON


Jim Macolm: The Corncrake

Beltane Records

Star rating:****

Singer and songwriter Jim Malcolm, a distinctively mellow voice on the Scottish music scene, articulates this clutch of all traditional songs with consideration and fondness. As well as his own guitar and trademark harmonica, he’s joined by guests including Pete Clarke on fiddle, Marc Duff on whistles and bodhran, Dave Watt on keyboards and Susie Malcolm on backing vocals.

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He opens with the spirited Merchants Son and ranges on through North-east poet Violet Jacob’s moving elegy for her war-dead son, Hallowe’en, set to music by the late Jim Reid, and a nicely sung Clerk Saunders, although I’m not quite sure if the laid-back guitar accompaniment does full justice to such a stately, declamatory classic as The Bonny Earl of Moray. But The Cruel Mither is delivered forcefully, When First I Came to Caledonia comes over with great heart, and Malcolm dwells nicely on The Echo Mocks the Corncrake – a perversely melodious song for a bird that sounds like a rusty gate. JIM GILCHRIST


Radio Londra: Radio Londra

Trio Records

Star rating: ****

Glasgow-born guitarist Jim Mullen has been involved in plenty of guitar-organ-drum trios in his time, but London-based Italian drummer Enzo Zirilli has added a twist to this session with the inclusion of a second guitarist, Luca Boscagin, with English star Ross Stanley filling the organ chair. That variation doesn’t really change the relationship between the instruments, but it does set up a nice interchange between the guitarists, with Mullen’s thumb style always instantly identifiable. Both are fluent improvisers, and Stanley’s solo contributions are equally inventive. There is a relaxed groove to the session even when they crank up the intensity on Satisfaction. The Stones’ classic is the most unexpected selection in a pleasing set of familiar standards and ballads and a couple of original tunes by Boscagin and Umberto Bindi. KENNY MATHIESON


Longing for the Past: The 78 RPM Era in South-East Asia


Star rating: *****

This is the first survey to be made of the 78rpm recording era in Southeast Asia, where pioneering European record companies – whose interest was commercial rather than musicological – passed the torch to local labels in the 1930s. Its scope is majestic, covering music recorded as long ago as 1906 in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia and Indonesia; its four CDs are accompanied by a book containing essays, period photographs, and detailed track annotations. An extraordinary achievement, now deservedly winning all the awards. MICHAEL CHURCH