Camera Obscura: Desire Lines
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The four years since the self-deprecatingly titled My Maudlin Career have been well spent in terms of composition. Tracyanne Campbell exudes class and confidence out front on her own, selling the songs with sincere conviction, from the wistful exuberance of New Year’s Resolution to the more tightly wound Cri Du Coeur.
But the band can do jaunty pop equally well: Break It To You Gently and Fifth In Line To The Throne getting toes a tapping and heads sagely nodding.
Camera Obscura are contemporaries of Belle & Sebastian, and parallels can be drawn with Stuart Murdoch’s plaintive pop, but they are easier to embrace than his twitchier neuroses. Even more pensive tunes such as William’s Heart have an inclusive warmth with an infectious glow.
Shortly embarking on a US tour before a summer stint opening shows for Zooey Deschanel’s She & Him, Camera Obscura have the potential to be a mainstream global act. Sounding like Fruits of Passion fused with Everything But The Girl does not lessen that appeal, nor diminish their considerable charm.
Download this: I Missed Your Party, William’s Heart, Cri Du CoeurPOP
The Pastels: Slow Summits
Instantly transporting us back to the C86 generation, the Pastels’ first record in an age proves Stephen McRobbie has lost little of his slacker charm. Check Your Heart sounds as though it stumbled out of the studio to avoid the slovenly percussion, and it’s the most engaging song in this largely directionless collection.
Download this: Check Your Heart, Summer Rain
Queens of the Stone Age: Like Clockwork
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Josh Homme remains the closest thing we have to a traditional rock god these days. Who else could accommodate guest turns from Arctic Monkey Alex Turner and Elton John cheek by ample jowl? Most impressive is that Kalopsia and Fairweather Friend are first and foremost Queens of the Stone Age tunes, both bone-crushingly intense. Homme’s production retains the sonic steam hammer quality evident on previous records, and they can still construct a catchy melody, such as If I Had A Tail, but the music is dark and comparatively daring for an act of this magnitude.
Download this: Kalopsia, If I Had A Tail
Paul Desmond: The Complete RCA Albums Collection
Sony Music 88697939412, £29.99
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Paul Desmond is probably best known these days as the alto saxophonist with Dave Brubeck’s iconic quartet and the composer of Take Five, that group’s big hit. However, as these six albums (none of which feature a piano, as Desmond agreed to keep his solo ventures entirely distinct from his Brubeck work) highlight, he produced a terrific body of Brubeck-less work, among them an LP with strings, and long-running collaborations with guitarist Jim Hall and drummer Connie Kay. This excellent box set features 24 bonus tracks, and is a wonderful introduction to Desmond’s sweet but melancholy-tinged sound; his gently swinging, intimate style and his bossa nova leanings. Two Of A Mind, the LP with Gerry Mulligan, is a particular stand-out.
Download this: Samba Cantina, Stardust
Various Artists: The Beautiful Old – Turn Of The Century Songs
Dubloon Records DR-104, online only
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With The Band’s Garth Hudson at the piano, and singers that include Richard Thompson, Christine Collister, Dave Davies (The Kinks), Graham Parker, Kimmie Rhodes, Kim Richey, Heidi Talbot, Jimmy LaFave and Eric Bibb, this is a charming, unique look at these older songs, from 1823’s Home Sweet Home through to the end of the First World War. The arrangements are kept true to the acoustic ambience of this pre-recording era when sheet music sales were at their highest. After The Ball (the first song to sell more than a million sheet copies) here has accordion, piano, bass, drums, fiddle and ukulele under Davies’ vocal, and the variety of sound remains high through all of the 19 tracks. And as The Dying Californian admits, “gold will never rust”.
Download this: The Flying Trapeze
Sergei Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Decca 478 4890, £15.99
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This new twin-CD recording from the Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa resolves the issue of what to do with unused CD space by adding Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini to the four concertos – a perfectly complementary partner. Lisitsa’s performance is sterling throughout, with the London Symphony Orchestra under Michael Francis proving to be an often unexpectedly softly-spoken partner – for example, in the opening movement of Concerto No 2. With references to the composer’s own recordings as a counterpoint to what’s written in his scores, Lisitsa gives highly personal and modern performances, by turns gently romantic and full of enthusiastic attack.
Download this: Concerto No 2 in C minor, Allegro scherzando