Dave Grohl invites some of his showbiz friends to help out on the new Foo Fighters album, while a legendary Neil Young bootleg gets a long-awatied official release
Foo Fighters: Concrete and Gold Columbia ***
Gun: Favourite Pleasures Caroline International ***
Ricky Ross: Short Stories Vol.1 earMUSIC ***
Neil Young: Hitchhiker
Dave Grohl, by common consent the Nicest Man in Rock, can now bid for the Hardest Working Man in Showbiz tag. Not even a nasty leg break can keep the Foo Fighters frontman down. Having completed the band’s Sonic Highways world tour seated on a Spinal Tap-esque throne, Grohl took some time off to recuperate – and managed to sit down for a mere six months of recovery before scratching that itch again.
Concrete And Gold is the satisfying result, forged in cahoots with Adele producer Greg Kurstin, with guest backing vocals from Justin Timberlake and Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman, plus Grohl’s old mucker Paul McCartney on drums, all bringing robust pop credentials to the table.
This is no mainstream bland-out, however. The big though brief air-punching 70s power rock opener T-shirt, demented Gothic thrash of recent single Run, lean but mean blues rocking Make It Right and economic garage rock of La Dee Da testify to the taut dynamism of an album which confidently blends the band’s rock and pop chops.
The Sky Is A Neighbourhood is another brawny arena rocker with the additional dramatic swirl of strings, its odd title concept referring to stewardship of the planet and beyond. Grohl is more of a big picture politico – “trouble to the right and left, whose side you’re on?” he asks.
The foot comes off the accelerator for the first time on Dirty Water but its mellow, summery sound eventually revs up to a rocking climax to reflect its far from placid envirogeddon concerns. “Where’s your Shangri-la now?” Grohl muses on the blatantly Beatley pop number Happy Ever After (Zero Hour), garlanded with wistful backing vocal harmonies.
For all its ferocious moments, Concrete and Gold is a sophisticated pop production and never more so than on the epic closing title track, a Sabbath sludge rock lament featuring a choir of Timberlakes and Stockmans.
Glasgow’s Gun also stick to their classic rock lane on latest album Favourite Pleasures, though it is a more conventional and less stimulating affair than the Foos’ offering, characterised by the efficient mainstream rocking of Take Me Down and drab rock ballad The Boy Who Fooled The World but better served by glam stomper Here’s Where I Am and the blend of grit and fist-pumping chorus on Black Heart.
In contrast, Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross dials back the strutting showmanship on his latest solo outing which was initially inspired by a piano pow-wow with pals and features songs old, new, borrowed and blue in a stripped down setting. Short Stories Vol. 1 is being sold in tandem with tickets for his forthcoming solo tour and is effectively a preview of his setlist. Deacon Blue favourites Raintown and Wages Day feature in less rumbustious form and the best of the bunch of new self-styled “homeless songs” are the ruminative croon of The Kid at the Airport, the blithe baroque pop of Siggi the Bully and the touch of Tom Waits storytelling on Only God and Dogs.
The best album of the week, however, is the fabled 41-year-old Hitchhiker, recorded by Neil Young in one spontaneous Malibu session in August 1976, bootlegged many times over the years but now given a belated official release. Some of its ten acoustic songs were re-recorded in the interim – Pocahontas and Powderfinger on Rust Never Sleeps, for example – and became Young staples, but a couple of tracks, Hawaii and Give Me Strength, were never placed elsewhere and are deservedly retrieved on this prime slice of vintage Americana, all the more remarkable for its spontaneity.
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto & “Reformation” Symphony Harmonia Mundi *****
The danger with a piece as familiar as Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto is its very familiarity. Any attempt to do something different will initially cause some mental unrest. Take the scooping portamenti that soloist Isabelle Faust plays freely with, most unconventionally in the slow movement – the result of some consultation on performance traits of the time. Her approach is apparently authentic, as is the thinning down of the vibrato, and the clean, raw edged period instrument style of the accompanying Freiburg Barockorchester under the baton of Pablo Heras-Casado. Let the ears attune and this period reboot is truly electrifying, void of sentimentality, but full of rich musicality. Similarly, Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture enjoys an appropriately rugged finesse in the Freiburgers’ hands. There follows a glorious performance of the Reformation Symphony, Mendelssohn’s 5th.
Mairearad Green & Mike Vass: A Day a Month Buie Records ***
Multi-instrumentalist Mike Vass and accordionist Mairearad Green agreed to meet once a month to arrange and record tunes from some of the great Highland collections, some of them not frequently heard. By the sound of it, they fairly enjoyed themselves.
Despite Vass multi-tracking on fiddle and tenor guitar and occasional effects, such as the spacey background echoes on Tha’m Buntàta Mòr or the heavy electronic beat behind a jig set, this easy-going album gives the impression of two sympathetic musicians simply sitting down together (in a croft house in Achnahaird, or on Vass’s boat) to play some of their favourite tunes. The near-live effect is particularly marked in tracks such as the strathspey set, Megs, and a perky set of reels, while there is sensitive treatment for two slow airs, Dhomhnuil and Failte do’n Mhisg – a surprisingly dignified melody, considering its title can be translated as “Hail to Drink”.