Album reviews: Dolly Parton | Stella Parton | Crystal Castles

Dolly Parton. Picture: Contributed
Dolly Parton. Picture: Contributed
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Country icon Dolly Parton keeps it sweet and safe for her 43rd album – but the bonus CD from her Glastonbury show is great

Dolly Parton: Pure and Simple | Rating: ** | Dolly Records/RCA Nashville

Stella Parton: Mountain Songbird: A Sister’s Tribute | Rating: *** | Man In The Moon Records

Crystal Castles: Amnesty (I) | Rating: *** | Fiction Records

You can trust country doyenne Dolly Parton to come up with a homely homily to enforce her astutely constructed and rigorously maintained brand image. So here comes the latest nugget of wisdom, to accompany her 43rd album, Pure And Simple: “I may not be pure, but I’m as simple as they come!”

In fact, Parton is as shrewd as they come but, in this case, she is really referring to the apparent simplicity of her songwriting. She has built an enduring career on strong hooklines and direct sentiments, which she will occasionally dress up in slick pop production. So this is just her downhome way of saying that Pure And Simple is an unpretentious array of love ballads, where the feelings are as amplified as the arrangements are unadorned.

There is none of the dirt track grit nor sassy attitude which she often brings to the table, just some uninspired spins on her perennial themes – the bliss of longterm monogamous love, the illicit thrill of the affair, the comfort of family, the cosy nostalgia of her mountain upbringing – and a couple of refitted oldies, Say Forever You’ll Be Mine and Tomorrow Is Forever, from her duetting days with Porter Wagoner.

This is Dolly in either sugary sweet or breathily sensitive mode, accompanied by the trill of mandolin, delicately picked guitar or graceful strings. She flutters flagrantly on Never Not Love You, ladles on the schmaltz on the terribly middle of the road Kiss It (And Make It All Better) and clings to the apron strings on the gooey Mama.

She is credible enough as the rueful cheating heart on the dewy-eyed Can’t Be That Wrong, but doesn’t really convince as the passionate lover making her booty call on Outside Your Door nor as the giddy kipper rediscovering her youth on I’m Sixteen, while a growling bass backing vocalist adds to the playfulness/creepiness.

On the flimsy plus side, Head Over High Heels is the perfect Parton title, even if the song fails to live up to the camp billing. Patrons in search of classic Dolly are therefore directed to the bonus CD – a recording of her 2014 Glastonbury Festival set, which broke Pyramid Stage attendance records, and justifiably so for all the Vegas verve she and her band brought to this wide-ranging celebration of her career and talent.

If you are still hankering after a further taste of her finer songs, younger sister (and fellow actress, author and activist) Stella Parton pays her own faithful, folksy tribute on Mountain Songbird, selecting 11 Dolly favourites to cover in satisfying style, alongside her own autobiographical title track and a jaunty country rocker called More Power To Ya, co-written with Dolly, on which the Parton sisters’ complementary voices fit together in natural sibling harmony.

Electronic noise duo Crystal Castles come from another musical planet entirely, with their raucous industrial rave onslaught and chaotic, cathartic performances. Original frontwoman Alice Glass left under a cloud a couple of years ago, but founding member Ethan Kath has since recruited her replacement, Edith Frances, with barely a blip in their stylised sound. Like her predecessor, Frances has two settings, either howling like a wounded animal over driving digital punk or cooing serenely over ethereal electro lullabies. Frail straddles that divide, being a trancey hands-in-the-air affair which will probably come over more forcefully live, where this band are best appreciated. Fiona Shepherd

JAZZ: Ben Bryden: Glasgow Dreamer: The Music of Ivor Cutler | Rating: **** | Roncador Records

It’s hard to imagine the dry and idiosyncratic voicings of the late Ivor Cutler providing substance for a jazz instrumental album, but the New York-based Scots tenor saxophonist Ben Bryden has pulled it off with these intriguing and melodically engaging interpretations, plus three compositions of his own, including the lyrical title track.

He’s joined in his indie-rock-informed quartet by Reinier Baas on guitar, Tom Berkman on bass and Mark Schilders on drums, Bryden’s richly toned tenor sax contrasting with Baas’s clamorous guitar in up-tempo numbers such as the punkish swagger of The Meadows Go or I Worn My Elbows. In contrast, A Hole in My Toe is like a slow country blues, sax sounding against distant guitar reverb. The closing track, Cutler’s I’m Walking to a Farm has elegiac sax fading out, appropriately, on a drift of harmonium, Cutler’s instrument of choice. Jim Gilchrist

CLASSICAL: The Complete Songs of Fauré, Vol. 1 | Rating: **** | Signum

Whether or not Ravel was accurate in describing fellow French composer Gabriel Urbain Fauré’s songs as “imperfect works of genius”, they are exquisitely natural and fresh in character, never precious, always faithful to the texts.

They are also bountiful, and the 35 songs on this delightful disc are but Volume 1 of an unfolding series covering the composer’s entire song output.

The common factor, and driving power behind the series, is pianist Malcolm Martineau, whose softly probing pianism pulls together the miscellany of well-known singers, who range from the robust Nigel Cliffe, sweet counter tenor Iestyn Davies, radiant tenor Ben Johnson and wholesome Ann Murray, to the restful mellowness of Lorna Anderson, and the experienced musicianship of Janis Kelly and Joan Rodgers. A series to follow with keen interest. Ken Walton